April 10, 2011

Compressed Gas, Equipment, Fire and Explosions | Facility Audit

Compressed Gas and Equipment

Hazards associated with compressed gases include oxygen displacement, fires, explosions, and toxic gas exposures, as well as the physical hazards associated with high pressure systems. Special storage, use, and handling precautions are necessary in order to control these hazards.

Some common troublespots associated with compressed gas include:
  • Improper handling of cylinders. Compressed gas cylinders require careful handling to prevent damage. When handling cylinders, move cylinders (securely fastened, in as near an upright position as possible) on special hand trucks. Take precautions not to drop or bang cylinders together. Also, ensure workers know not to roll, drag, or slide cylinders and never use cylinders as rollers or supports. Workers should also never lift cylinders by their caps or use magnets to lift cylinders. Cradles or platforms can be used to lift cylinders only if the cylinder was manufactured with lifting attachments.

  • Compressed gas cylinders not clearly identified. Never rely on cylinder color for identification, as this can vary with the supplier. Similarly, don't rely on cap labels as these are interchangeable.

  • Incorrect tools. Make sure you use only tools provided by the cylinder supplier to open or close a valve. Always be familiar with the supplier's guidelines and instructions.

  • Unsafe cylinders. Employers need to determine that compressed gas cylinders under their control are in a safe condition to the extent that this can be determined by visual inspection. Some items to look for are leaks, bulges, defective valves or safety devices, physical abuse, fire/heat damage, and detrimental rusting or corrosion. Cylinders with defects must not be used unless properly repaired and requalified. Employers must return defective cylinders to the supplier.

Fire and Explosions

Workplace fires and explosions kill 200 and injure more than 5,000 workers each year.

Fire is among the most deadly of workplace hazards and the most preventable of accidents. Because of the serious danger of fire, it's to your benefit to know about fires and what to do should a fire erupt.

OSHA regulates several aspects of fire prevention and response. Emergency planning, fire prevention plans, and evacuation that would need to be done in the event of a serious fire are addressed in the OSHA standard, §1910.38. In addition, the provision of fire extinguishers and other protection is addressed in §1910.157.

It takes a certain combination of three elements — oxygen, an ignition source, and fuel — to start a fire. Without one of these elements in the proper amount, the fire will not start, or if it has already started, will go out. Fire can be represented by a simple equation:
  • Fire = Ignition + Fuel + Oxygen

Chemical Fires
Many of the thousands of chemicals in use in the workplace are both highly toxic and highly volatile. Extreme caution must be used to prevent and fight fires resulting from chemical spills and accidents. Chemicals can cause serious injuries through physical (fire or explosion) or health (burns or poisons) hazards. Chemicals are classified by the inherent properties that make them hazardous.
  • Flammable — these chemicals catch fire very easily; hazards include property damage, burns and injuries that result when toxic and corrosive compounds are released into the air.

  • Reactive — a reactive material is one that can undergo a chemical reaction under certain conditions; reactive substances can burn, explode, or release toxic vapor if exposed to other chemicals, air or water.

  • Explosive — an explosive is a substance which undergoes a very rapid chemical change producing large amounts of gas and heat; explosions can also occur as a result of reactions between chemicals not ordinarily considered explosive.

Common Fire Hazards
Below are some areas to look at for identifying and preventing fire hazards:
  • Smoking areas;

  • Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, including their pipes, switches, wiring, and boiler controls;

  • Electrical equipment, including wiring and controls and extension cords;

  • Static electricity;

  • Forklift fueling and servicing;

  • Hot work;

  • Flammable and combustible liquids and gases;

  • Storage areas; packaging, including cardboard, excelsior, foam compositions, and paper;

  • Waste removal.

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