Summer is in full swing and it seems like every weekend there’s another carnival, fair, or festival in town. If you’re like me, you want to spend as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors, doing everything from cooking, to camping, to tubing and rafting.
What do all of these activities have in common? Compressed gases!
Whether for bug spray or beer, compressed gases make being outside even more enjoyable. We use propane for grills and lanterns and compressed air for blowing up tires and inner tubes. They use loads of them at the fair – helium for balloons, liquid nitrogen to make Dippin’ Dots®, and even Whac-A-Mole® at one time used air cylinders to raise and lower the moles.
While compressed gases can make our lives easier and fun, there are several hazards associated with them.
All compressed gases pose a physical hazard because they are pressurized. Some are also poisonous, corrosive, extremely cold, or can cause fires and explosions.
Even non-flammable, non-toxic gases can cause oxygen deficiency and create an asphyxiation hazard. Cylinders of pressurized gases can range from small pocket size sprays to large cylinders that are used to heat and/or cool entire facilities. Improperly used, stored, or transported cylinders can cause major incidents. The gas can escape so fast that the cylinder becomes a rocket.
Many compressed gases pose multiple hazards, and should be used with extreme caution, both in the workplace and at home, regardless of the size or type of hazard.
OSHA Safety Standards for Compressed Gases
There are two standards that OSHA enforces when it comes to all compressed gases. First, 29 CFR 1910.1200, the Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard requires that employees receive information and training
on hazards they are exposed to.
Second, 29 CFR 1910.101, the Compressed Gases Standard, provides personnel with general requirements to follow when inspecting, handling, storing, or using compressed gases. In addition, if you deal with certain gases, such as acetylene, hydrogen, oxygen, or nitrous oxide, there are additional OSHA regulations that may apply to you.
Per the HazCom standard, OSHA divides gases under pressure into four categories:
- Compressed gas (e.g., helium)
- Liquified gas (e.g., propane)
- Dissolved gas (e.g., acetylene)
- Refrigerated liquified gas (e.g., liquid nitrogen)
OSHA has specific definitions for two additional types of gases, flammable gases (ones that burn) like butane, and oxidizing gases (ones that help other materials burn), for example, oxygen. OSHA also categorizes gases that are acutely
toxic (what we would typically think of as “poisonous”) based on lethal concentration (LC50
US DOT Hazmat Regulations for Compressed Gases
US DOT hazardous materials regulations (HMR) define hazard class 2, compressed gases, in 49 CFR 173. The three divisions found in Class 2 are based on type of additional hazard the gas has, if any.
- Division 2.1: Flammable (e.g., acetylene and propane)
- Division 2.2: Non-flammable, non-poisonous compressed gas (e.g., helium and nitrogen)
- Division 2.3: Gas poisonous by inhalation (chlorine)
US DOT does not assign packing groups to indicate severity for compressed gases, as it does for most common hazardous materials. Only division 2.3
hazmats are assigned one of four hazard zones, based on inhalation toxicity lethal concentration (LC50
) values as indicated in the table below.
While there are fun applications for compressed gases, the main thing to remember is that the damage hazardous gases can do is no joke! Compressed gases are always dangerous, so learn how to store, handle, use, and ship them safely by taking Lion’s HazCom: Compressed Gases Online Course
For training to inform and protect employees who work with other common hazardous materials, take a whack at any of our online OSHA/HazCom training courses.