Compressed gases in cylinders are Dangerous Goods and should only be handled by staff and contractors trained in correct handling techniques. This blog looks at gas cylinders; how they’re used in the workplace, the risks they pose to health and safety, and the proper way to handle them.
Gas cylinders in the workplace
Compressed gases are used in homes and workplaces all over the world, and it might be said that the unique chemical properties of gases and other Hazardous Chemicals make our comfortable 21st century lives possible.
Industrial applications of compressed gases include:
- Fuels gases like LPG power forklifts in warehouses, gas heaters in restaurants and welding torches in workshops;
- Toxic gases like chlorine purify water treatment plants and swimming pools
- Pure oxygen gas is used for yeast activation and preservation in wineries, industrial welding, and medical treatment
- Corrosive gases like ammonia is used to refrigerate cold storage plants, and manufacture plastics
- Industrial gases like helium, hydrogen, argon and nitrogen are used to maintain laboratory instruments
- Oxidising gases like nitrogen dioxide is used to bleach flour and it’s also an ingredient in rocket fuel
- Reactive gases like acetylene are used for welding and industrial cutting
NOTE: Compressed gas bottles are never really empty. Even if the gauge reads 0, residual gas will always remain in the cylinder. Always treat empty cylinders with the same caution as full cylinders.
Handling risks and hazards
Cylinders that contain gases under pressure must be handled correctly. The cylinder themselves are heavy and awkwardly shaped, so handlers are vulnerable to manual handling injuries like sprains, strains, falls, bruises, or broken bones.
At the same time, mishandled cylinders that are dropped, impacted or knocked over create additional hazards if the gases are accidentally released. The following catastrophic hazards are all very possible if gases leak from damaged cylinders:
- Chemical burns
- Cold burns
- Fatal exposure to toxic and corrosive gases
- Impact from cylinders in ‘torpedo-like’ momentum
- Asphyxiation from oxygen displacement
Handling gas cylinders safely
To keep your workplace safe and 100% compliant with Australian safety legislation, follow the guidelines of AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders. The minimum requirements outlined in this standard are:
1. Mechanical lifting devices are used when transporting cylinders
A worker suffered multiple fractures and was hospitalised after a cylinder he was moving tipped over and crushed his leg. This accident might have been prevented if the worker had used a forklift to move the cylinder. The Standard requires that cylinders must only be lifted and transported with a mechanical lifting device (like a forklift), and care should always be taken to ensure that cylinder valves are always protected from damage. Cylinders must never dropped or rolled over the side of trucks.
2. Cylinder valves are protected at all times
A worker was on a ladder while soldering pipe. He placed the torch cylinder on a wooden beam in between welds, which subsequently fell to the ground. The cylinder neck cracked open and the worker suffered 3rd degree burns as the cylinder engulfed in flames and he tried to jump from the ladder. The standard requires a purpose-built gas bottle trolley or cage that has individual restraints and protects the valve and regulator from damage.
3. Cylinders are securely restrained
A worker checking cylinders for leaks was killed after being struck by a loose cylinder that was propelled into the air as gas began dispensing rapidly. This workplace accident is tragic example of why the Standard requires that cylinders must be kept upright and securely restrained at all times.
4. Appropriate PPE is provided for employees
Using substandard PPE causes injuries and accidents — like an employee who received 2nd degree burns to his hands while wearing only cotton when changing an LPG cylinder. Always consult the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each of the gases handled and stored at your worksite and make sure the PPE is well maintained and easy to find.
5. Staff are given clear instructions and adequately trained
Two workers were killed and another seriously injured when they were carrying LPG cylinders down stairs. One worker dropped a cylinder which impacted another worker and then exploded.
It is essential that staff understand the chemical properties of the gases they use and handle, as well as the hazards associated with the cylinders. They must be given clear and specific manual handling procedures as well as ongoing re-training.
Other cylinder handling best practices
- Transport cylinders with valves closed and caps in place
- Never use cylinder caps or valves to lift or move cylinders
- Do not accept cylinders that have no labels or identification, and never rely on the color alone to identify the gas inside the cylinder
- Visually inspect cylinders and don’t accept anything that appears damaged, corroded or out of test date
- Don’t try to catch a falling cylinder, get clear
- Have cylinders regularly tested and serviced by qualified technicians
- Never drag or slide cylinders even for short distances
- Don’t tamper or remove cylinder labels, markings or paintwork
If you handle and store gas cylinders at your workplace we strongly encourage you to download our free eBook Gas Cylinder Storage: Compliance and safety requirements. We unpack AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders and detail how to manage the risks and hazards associated with compressed gases.