Safe Use of Compressed Gas Cylinders
by Susan McElrath
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Compressed gases present several hazards. Labels on the
cylinder and the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) supplied with
the gas tell you about the hazardous properties of the gas; such
as toxic, flammable, or oxidizer. In addition to the gas hazards,
compressed gas cylinders pose other hazards simply because they
contain gas under pressure.
Regardless of the properties of the gas, any gas under
pressure can explode if the compressed gas cylinders is improperly stored or
handled. Making a balloon fly around by suddenly releasing the
air is amusing, but a flying cylinder is not so funny. The
principle is the same for both a balloon and a compressed gas
cylinder. Improperly releasing the gas from a compressed gas
cylinder is extremely dangerous. Cylinders are definitely not
balloons--they are hard and heavy. A sudden release of the gas
can cause a cylinder to become a missile-like projectile,
destroying everything in its path. Cylinders have been known to
penetrate concrete-block walls. To prevent such a dangerous
situation, there are several general procedures to follow for
safe storage and handling of a compressed gas cylinder:
- Store cylinders in an area specifically designated for
that purpose. This area must protect the compressed gas cylinder from
being struck by another object. The area must be
well-ventilated and away from sources of heat. It must be
at least 20 feet away from highly combustible materials.
Oxidizers must be stored at least 20 feet away from
- Cylinders must not be dropped or allowed to fall. Chain
and rack them in an upright position during use and
storage. When transporting compressed gas cylinder, they must be
secured from falling.
- When moving a cylinder, even for a short distance, all
the valves must be closed, the regulator removed, and the
valve cap installed. Never use the valve cap to lift a
cylinder. If you are using a crane or some other lifting
device to move a cylinder, use a cradle or boat designed
for that purpose. Never use a sling or a magnet to move a
- Never permit cylinders to contact live electrical
equipment or grounding cables.
- Cylinders must be protected from the sun's direct rays,
especially in high-temperature climates. compressed gas cylinder must
also be protected from ice and snow accumulation.
- Before the gas is used, install the proper
pressure-reducing regulator on the valve. After
installation, verify the regulator is working, that all
gauges are operating correctly and that all connections
are tight to ensure that there are no leaks. When you are
ready to use the gas, open the valve with your hands.
Never use a wrench or other tool. If you cannot open it
with your hands, do not use it.