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October 24, 2005
Working with Compressed Gases

Compressed gas cylinders must be manufactured to meet various safety standards and they come equipped with a variety of safety features. Even so, compressed gases cause numerous workplace accidents every year—some of them fatal.

OSHA has specific storage requirements. Although there is some variation depending on the gas, all cylinders must be stored:

  • In a dry, well-ventilated area.
  • At least 20 feet from combustible materials, heat sources, or electrical wiring.
  • Away from stairs and elevators.
  • In locations where they are unlikely to be knocked over or banged.
  • Upright, secured by a chain or cable.
  • At least 20 feet from oxygen cylinders.
  • With valves closed and valve protection caps screwed down.
  • With the oldest cylinders placed so that they will be used first.

Accident potential increases when cylinders are moved. Train your employees to be very careful and follow these handling precautions:

  • Move cylinders secured upright to a hand truck or other appropriate device.
  • Keep valve protection caps on when moving them.
  • Don't try to carry cylinders by hand, roll them, or drag them.
  • Make sure not to bump, bang, or drop cylinders.
  • Keep them away from sparks, heat, fire, and electrical circuits while moving them.
  • Avoid handling cylinders with oily or greasy hands.
  • Be careful of fingers and avoid pinch points.

Compressed gases can be deadly if not used safely.

Why It Matters...
  • Compressed gas is often flammable and can explode like a bomb.
  • When ignited, cylinders can also be as destructive as a missile, flying through the air, spinning, ricocheting, and crashing through anything in their path.
  • Some compressed gases are toxic and can make workers sick-or kill them.
  • All too often workers don't recognize, or sufficiently appreciate, these serious hazards and, as a result, fail to take appropriate precautions.

Any employee who works with compressed gases needs to know about these key safety precautions:

  • Use cylinders only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Keep them away from heat and ignition sources.
  • Never smoke around compressed gas cylinders.
  • Make sure they are secured upright when in use.
  • Open valves slowly, making sure they are pointed away from co-workers.
  • Don't try to force valves that won't open. Report the problem.
  • Don't tamper with safety devices.
  • Make sure that equipment is compatible with the cylinder pressure and contents.
  • Check all connections before use and periodically during use to make sure they are not leaking.
  • Keep valves closed when cylinders are not in use.
  • When a cylinder is empty, close the valve, disassemble equipment properly, replace the valve protection cap, mark the cylinder "empty," and store it separately from full cylinders.
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