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Handling hazardous gases means always staying on top of regulations and best practices in your area. We have designed this guide to oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorine handling, as well as the handling of other gases, to help you develop your own risk assessment and prevention plans.
Please be aware that this is not a definitive guide and that it is advised to seek clarification from your local regulatory authority if you are in any doubt whatsoever. Handling hazardous materials and gases is something your facility needs to take very seriously, and a comprehensive approach to safety is required.
Oxygen by itself is not especially hazardous, although it can be toxic in high concentrations. The primary danger of handling oxygen in your facility is the element’s high reactiveness. Oxygen will react with most substances and will act as a fuel for combustion. As such, storage vessels should be non-reactive with oxygen and should be designed to protect oxygen gas against high temperatures that may cause ignition.
Methane is a non-toxic gas and is not flammable in limited quantities. This means exposure to methane is not as hazardous as other types of industrial gas, such as chlorine. However, methane is still included in our hazardous gas handling list for two reasons.
One: It is heavier than air and can displace breathable air when it is released into the environment in high quantities. This can lead to an asphyxiation risk.
Two: Methane is flammable when mixed with air. When methane concentrations in the air reach about 4.5%, the mixture can be flammable.
With this in mind, it is important to adopt a policy of no naked lights or flames around methane gas storage and handling areas. You will also need to put an evacuation plan in place to keep team members safe from exposure.
Hydrogen is a highly flammable gas and is governed by a number of different regulations and standards. These include general Fire and Building Codes, Hydrogen-Specific Codes such as NFPA 2 and Component Standards and Equipment Design Codes like CGA 6-5.5, among others.
The majority of hydrogen handling regulations focus on combustibility. Permanent storage containers need to be fitted with non-combustible supports and installed on non-combustible foundations. Portable containers — for handling on-premises or in transport — need to be clearly marked as containing hydrogen. All containers must be fitted with safety release devices that discharge vertically upwards.
Piping and tubing systems should be tested and monitored to ensure they can withstand the pressure of the gas within the system. Environmental conditions should also be controlled to avoid temperature increases that may damage tubing systems or increase the pressure of the gas within the system.
Chlorine exposure can be harmful even at low concentrations, and symptoms include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. At higher concentrations, symptoms may be severe and can even be fatal.
Because of this, it is recommended to implement specific “chlorine rooms” that separate chlorine handling areas from other locations at your facility. This room should be enclosed but well-ventilated, equipped with hardware to make escape easy, fitted with shatter-resistant inspection windows, and climate-controlled to maintain an environmental temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit while preventing extremes of heat or sunlight, among other requirements.
Personal protective equipment or PPE should also be issued to personnel who need to work with chlorine. This PPE should be regularly tested and assessed.
While the chlorine gas smell — similar to bleach or ammonia — is an indicator of a gas leak, detecting this scent is not a reliable means of identifying a gas leak. Instead, specific chlorine gas detectors should be deployed.
Acetylene is a flammable gas that needs to be treated with the appropriate care. This means educating personnel on proper climate control in areas of acetylene storage and handling and ensuring that there are no naked flames or other potential sources of ignition in the area.
Vehicles used in the transportation of gas cylinders should be fitted with the appropriate restraints to prevent damage to cylinders during transit. These vehicles should also be kitted out with fire control equipment such as fire extinguishers. Acetylene cylinders should be checked and assessed regularly to ensure all valves and other functional components are in working order — this also applies to other acetylene storage and management solutions such as pipework and other infrastructure.
Fluorine causes burns and other damage when it comes into contact with human tissue. It can also react vigorously with metals and other substances if the environmental temperature exceeds standard room temperature. For these reasons, PPE is required for all members of staff who will be handling fluorine gas, and strict climate control measures are necessary for areas of fluorine storage and usage.
To ensure maximum safety when handling fluorine, all equipment must be kept dry and free from water or other contaminants that may trigger a reaction. Gaskets and other equipment should be constructed from a non-metal and non-reactive substance such as Teflon to further reduce the chance of corrosion or other potentially damaging reactions.
Carbon Dioxide Handling
Carbon dioxide is all around us and is exhaled by humans and animals as part of the respiration process. However, when carbon dioxide is used in industry, the potential for exposure to high concentrations of the gas is increased. Higher concentrations can impair breathing and cognitive function and can even prove lethal.
As carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it can collect around ground-floor locations and in depressions in the ground, and even in well-ventilated or outdoor areas. Monitoring equipment should be positioned in these high-risk locations to identify areas of build-up. Equip members of staff with hand-held CO2 monitors so that high levels of build-up can quickly and accurately be identified.
Adopt a Safe and Responsible Approach to All Hazardous Gas Handling
These are just a few of the hazardous gases commonly used in industry. Depending on the field you operate in, you may find yourself using other types of gas as part of your daily operations. This list is not designed to be comprehensive, and is instead intended to serve as a guide that business owners and facility managers can use to develop their own best practices. Remember that rules and regulations may differ from state to state and are subject to change, so it is always advisable to stay on top of the latest recommendations from your local government and regulatory authority.