Imagine for a minute you are a plumber. You work independently and have been hired as a contractor on a construction site building a commercial office space. You’ve been there a while, become friendly with the other crew and one morning you, and some other contractors walk into the storeroom just like you have every other day.
But what you don’t know, is inside that storeroom 80 gas cylinders are standing upright without chains or gas bottle cages, and they don’t have safety caps placed over their valves. They all contain a non-flammable non-toxic gas called argonite and are waiting to be installed into the building’s fire protection system. Somehow one of them falls over.
Almost immediately the cylinder neck is sheared off and argonite (under high pressure) shoots out, propelling the cylinder into another one, knocking it over too. And then another. And another. Incredibly 66 cylinders begin to literally fly about the storeroom: they are each more than 2 metres high, weigh more than 140kg and are flying at speeds of more than 170 miles per hour.
You die in that storeroom from injuries after being hit by an airborne cylinder. You never know that 6 of your colleagues and friends are also seriously injured, or the WHS inspector’s final report states that ‘the incident could have been avoided had there been effective planning, management, monitoring and coordination”.
The plumber in the above example was a real person named Adam Johnston who died in 2008 at a workplace in the UK. This incident is a terrible reminder of the very real dangers of gas cylinders and why storing them safely at your workplace is of critical importance. Could this incident have happened where you work?
We’ve written this blog to help you understand the risks associated with gas cylinders, and then how to store them safely so you comply with Australian WHS legislation. Read on, because if your workplace (even if it’s a BBQ stall cooking sausages outside Bunnings) uses or contains any type of gas or LPG cylinder (empty or full) you have obligations under the law to minimise the risk of those cylinders causing someone to get hurt.
Risks associated with storing gas cylinders
Storing gas cylinders in a workplace poses a range of complex risks from the physical size of the metal cylinder, to the volatile nature of the compressed gas inside. And whether the cylinders at your workplace are simple LPG cylinders used to cook food at a festival, or pure oxygen for administering first aid at a hospital; or flammable gas used for tasks like welding in an industrial workshop, or highly toxic industrial ammonia; you need to make sure they are …
- Stored upright so residual liquefied gas cannot contact the cylinder valves.
- Secured by a chain or rack so they can’t fall over.
- Kept in a well ventilated area (preferably in a cage outside) to reduce the risks associated with leakage.
- Located away from radiant heat or anything that could cause a fire.
- Segregated so volatile and incompatible gases are not stored together.
- Labeled and tagged so staff and contractors know exactly what’s inside and that it’s been tested as ‘safe to use".
Securing gas cylinders correctly
Australia has strict laws regarding the use of gas cylinders at a workplace. Cylinders need to be structurally sound and manufactured in accordance with AS4332, only filled with the gas for which they were manufactured, regularly tested, stamped with an up-to-date safety clearance, and clearly marked as dangerous goods with placards.
Please note: under Australian legislation all gas cylinders (both full and empty) are dangerous goods and classed as flammable or combustible substances.
Cylinders at your work site must be safely secured when they are being used, when they are being transported and when they are in storage.
- The cylinder must only be used and stored in an upright position.
- Unless a cylinder is being used, make sure the protector cap is secured over the valve.
- Make sure cylinders are secured with a non-abrasive coated chain, strap or cable that won’t scratch the cylinder, or even better a customised racking system
Please remember that most accidents or injuries involving cylinders happen when they are being moved. They are often big, bulky and awkward so it’s really easy to knock them over or have them slip while you are maneuvering one onto a trolley. Make sure your staff are trained correctly and always wearing PPE appropriate for the gas inside when handling the cylinder.
Where to locate your gas cylinder storage
Gas cylinders are best stored outside in a dedicated cage with customised racks and safety chains. The cage should always be sheltered from the sun, well ventilated, away from mechanical hazards and public walkways.
You should also ensure:
- Empty and full cylinders are clearly marked and stored separately
- You don’t keep excess stocks
- Nothing is stored on top of the cage
- The cage is not located near machinery, electrical circuits, heat or other ignition sources
- Flammable gas is never stored near naked flames and the storage area is designated ‘NO SMOKING’
- Gas cylinders are not stored indoors unless the building has been specifically designed for this type of storage and has appropriate fire rated walls and ventilation.
For optimum storage safety, all gas cylinders must be stored in a compliant gas bottle cage that has been manufactured in full conformance to the Australian Standard AS4332.
Separating incompatible gases
In Australia gases are separated into 3 different classes of gases.
- Class 2.1 Flammable gas (LPG, hydrogen, acetylene)
- Class 2.2 Non-flammable, non-toxic gases (compressed air, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, helium)
- Class 2.3 Toxic Gas (methyl bromide, anhydrous ammonia, chlorine)
WARNING: incompatible gases will react and they MUST be stored separately.
To be certain about separating incompatible gases you should always check storage specifications with your supplier and the material safety data sheet. But as a general rule …
- Toxic gases should be stored away from all other gases
- Flammable gases should never be stored near oxygen and other oxidising gases
- Remember gas cylinders (even the empty ones) are classed as dangerous goods and must be separated from other dangerous goods and combustible liquids. If you can’t physically store them at least 5 meters away from other dangerous goods use appropriate fire rated barriers.
Marking your gas cylinders as Dangerous Goods
Finally, it’s super important to place the correct warning signs at your workplace. Remember the plumber Adam Johnston from the first paragraph? Well he died tragically at a work site, having no idea that gas cylinders or dangerous goods of any kind were stored there.
So make sure your cylinders are clearly and correctly marked as dangerous goods. Display the legally specified placard to provide a visual warning of the hazards associated with the gas. The placard signs need to be visible at the premises and at each building or other facility where the cylinders are stored or handled.
Here’s a quick signage guide:
- Class 2.1 Flammable gas (“Class 2.1 - Flammable Gas” Dangerous Goods Class Label, “Gases under pressure” Hazard Pictogram)
- Class 2.2 Non-flammable, non-toxic gases (“Class 2.2 - Non-flammable, non-toxic gases” Dangerous Goods Class Label, “Gases under pressure” Hazard Pictogram)
- Class 2.3 Toxic Gas (“Class 2.3 - Toxic Gases” Dangerous Goods Class Label, “Gases under pressure” Hazard Pictogram).
ALWAYS check with your supplier and the MSDS for accurate specifications.
If you need any help or advice about how to safely store gas cylinders at your workplace, please feel free to give us a call on 1300 134 223 or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We specialise in risk management as well as delivering customised gas cylinder storage cages for gas cylinders and other dangerous goods.
And finally, remember the plumber Adam Johnston. His death was avoidable and a salient reminder of the very real dangers surrounding gas cylinders and why storing them safely at your workplace is of critical importance.