Record attendance, a major breakthrough, a raft of technical updates, and glorious spring sunshine in the UK’s North West – the 2011 BCGA Annual Conference made the most of a winning combination.

Up to 150 delegates converged on the Worsley Park Marriott Hotel and Country Club in Manchester, ensuring a record attendance for the flagship event of both the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) and the UK gases scene itself. A comprehensive agenda of presentations awaited those delegates, as the BCGA once again discussed issues that are not just hot topics in the UK gases business, but are also subjects of global significance.

Held in Manchester for the second successive year, before returning to Leeds’ Oulton Hall in 2012 & 2013, the BCGA Annual Conference focused on all aspects of safe working practices within the gas industry.

Progress
BCGA President Mike Galvin, of GCE, opened proceedings and began by reflecting on a record attendance for the BCGA.

“Good morning all and welcome again to our 2011 conference. It’s heartening to see such a good attendance level and I’m led to believe that this is actually a record attendance for the BCGA in recent years, if not ever. It’s great to see that people have travelled so far to be here.”

“The BCGA itself has survived a few difficult years, particularly in 2009 and 2010, and I think we’ve come through that well. The BCGA continues its principal activity – in the promotion and advancement of technology and the safe practice in the manufacture of gases, their containment, distribution and application. Good progress has been made in a number of industry initiatives, with cylinders in fires, gas abuse, and rogue traders to name but a few.”

Outgoing Technical Secretary Steve Elliott described that wealth of progress made, on a number of technical fronts, during what has been a busy year for the BCGA and its members. A range of new or revised Codes of Practice were implemented in the past year, including the complete revision of CP5 which covers The Design and Construction of Manifolds Using Acetylene Gas. As Elliott explained, CP5 represents an important part of the BCGA’s library of codes and its revision is a significant step forward.

An important revision to CP31 (Safe Storage and Use of Cylinders in Mobile Workshops and Service Vehicles) was announced, while delegates were informed that 2010 also saw the association introduce two altogether new Codes of Practice. CP38 is an all new publication concerning the Revalidation of Cryogenic Tankers and Containers, reflecting on the internal condition of cryogenic tanks after service.

Meanwhile CP39 is also a new publication and a core document for what will be a wide bracket of documentation, regarding the In-Service Requirements of Pressure Equipment Installed at User Premises. As the core document, CP39 lays out the key methodology and how to decide what a sensible pattern of inspection is for equipment.

Codes of Practice are not the only technical publications offered by the BCGA and Elliott’s presentation outlined revisions and updates made to a number of its Guidance Notes and Technical Information Sheets, the latter which are of course free to download from the association’s website.

Among those updates, revisions to GN3 (Application of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations to Gas Cylinders) and GN6 (Avoidance and Detection of Internal Corrosion of Gas Cylinders) were explained. Much progress has also been made across the Technical Sub-Committees, delegates learned, with much more to come. Notably, TSC1 has started work on a new document concerning Biostores.

Presentations from the European Industrial Gases Association’s (EIGA) Phil Brickell, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Clive Dennis, the Association of Welding Distribution’s (AWD) Danny Gallagher and the Spiritus Group’s John Raquet reflected on the progression underway in a number of other areas.

Brickell described some of the change that lay ahead on the horizon for EIGA and its members, while Raquet gave some valuable region-by-region insights into the global gases business in 2010 and what was a strong year of recovery for our industry overall.

Breakthrough and buoyancy
Perhaps the most notable presentation for the BCGA was the subject of Acetylene Cylinders in Fires, a three year research project conducted by BAM Germany on the behaviour of acetylene cylinders in fires and the revised procedures of the UK Fire & Rescue Service.

BCGA Chief Executive Doug Thornton, together with the UK Government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Sir Ken Knight, announced that the project had finally culminated in considerable step-change for industry.

Agreement has been reached for a new one hour cooling and further (precautionary) one hour monitoring protocol when dealing with acetylene cylinders. The development could bring an end to the major disruptions and wasted resource caused by setting-up 24-hour hazard zones where cylinders in fires are concerned, as well as going some way to dispelling some of the myths about acetylene and its behaviour.

Explaining the breakthrough achievement for the BCGA, Thornton announced, “We’re actually talking about the culmination of around five years work here, but it is by no means the end.”

“It’s a satisfying journey and the outcome of this is of global significance.” Addressing the record audience, Sir Knight added “It’s important to recognise that along that journey we’ve learnt a lot about each other, we’ve learned a lot about the subject itself and a number of challenges.”

“But what’s been important in this process is the guidance that we give to the Fire & Rescue Service in particular is evidence-based. The BAM research has given us a very sound reason to want to amend or change our guidance.”

Delegates were left in no doubt that 2010 was yet another enterprising year for the BCGA. While twelve months ago the UK was under the imposing ‘ash cloud’ that so disrupted travel and supply chains, the 2011 conference basked not only in the sublime spring sunshine, but also the success savoured on several fronts.

A record attendance, of which there was a strong overseas representation, was just one reason for cheer. In the past year the BCGA has also seen its membership numbers hold firm and the significant progress achieved has also left the association buoyant – with the conference itself clearly a dynamic, upbeat and vibrant affair. Rousing, non-gas related presentations brought the day to its conclusion, ahead of the President’s closing cooments and later that evening, the Annual Dinner and Reception.

The evening dinner also saw the revelation of a potential female president in the future, with Sylvie Villepontoux (Air Liquide UK) named as the nominee to be the next president elect, subject to approval at the BCGA’s AGM on 9th May.

Replacing a guru
Steve Elliott will retire as BCGA’s Technical Secretary at the end of 2011, having served 15 years in the role and 37 years in the industrial gases sector, including senior positions within AGA, Air Products and ICI.

Steve will be a hard act to follow, as Doug Thornton told gasworld magazine, ‘’ Steve is a quiet and modest man, but widely recognised as an absolute guru on industrial gas technology and related regulation. Whatever topic arises, which I think to be a new issue, I can depend on Steve to recall and still have the detail on when, where and how we faced and dealt with it before.”

“I now have the challenging task of replacing the irreplaceable!’ he added.

Details of how to apply for the role can be found on the www.bcga.co.uk.