Following the successful British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) 2008 conference, focusing on a theme of safer working practices within the gases industry, safety has taken on renewed interest within the industry of late. A company well versed in this area of safety is Gas Safe Consultants.

For many years Gas Safe has been working hard to ensure that users of gas cylinders, cryogenic liquids and associated equipment are aware of the potential hazards and risks posed by the products and substances they work with.

Whilst the gases industry has a good safety record accidents do, unfortunately, occur. How to operate safely with compressed gas cylinders and cryogenic liquid vessels is something of a specialist area for the company and Gas Safe offers gasworld readers some key safety guidance as we explore this topic.

The first relevant factor to consider is training, which is a legal requirement under the Health & Safety at Work Act of 1974.

The majority of training undertaken with gases is by ‘word of mouth’, whereby a new member of staff is asked to observe and listen to someone who has been doing the job for a number of years. This methodology produces an attitude of ‘this is how we do the job’ that is frequently, incorrect. Formal, documented training is essential the company notes, to make staff aware of the hazards, risks and properties of the gases they deal with.

As an example of this, many operatives have been taught ‘on-the-job’ to identify the contents of a gas cylinder by its colour. This is incorrect and potentially very dangerous; a number of accidents have occurred in recent years that could have been avoided if the people concerned had received proper formal training.

Additionally Gas Safe notes, it is not unusual to find operators (who don’t understand how their cryogenic pressure vessel operates) decanting liquid nitrogen at pressures that are too high, without appropriate PPE and without oxygen monitoring devices. Operators are also frequently found, who have not received any manual handling training relating to gas cylinders and/or cryogenic vessels. These are all potentially dangerous practices.

Due to the advancements in technology, operators may now undertake gas safety awareness training online utilising one of Gas Safe’s established e-learning packages, or may wish to attend one of the company’s traditional Instructor-led workshops.

The second relevant factor is Risk Assessment. In Gas Safe’s experience, organisations have generally undertaken risk assessments on many key factors within their organisations but, for some reason, neglected to complete any with regard to gas cylinder
and or cryogenic liquid use.

In addition, it’s found that in many organisations it is the job of only one or two people to produce risk assessments. The problem with this approach with respect to gases is simple; if the ‘assessors’ concerned do not understand the hazards that may be posed by the use of gases within the organisation, how can they spot those hazards and calculate the risks?

The third relevant factor, which is not unrelated to the second, is the production and usage of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s), also commonly referred to as Method Statements.

Most activities or ‘operations’ that occur within a workplace should have a documented Standard Operating Procedure, detailing exactly how the operation is to be carried out. Members of staff undertaking the operation in question must have been properly trained in this (and that fact formally recorded in their training record) and have access to any relevant risk assessment document(s).

Users of oxy-fuel equipment who do not have access to any form of SOP, have often been found to be using incorrect light up and shut down techniques for years as a consequence.

Gas Safe also frequently hears that operators are time served and learned about welding at college or during an apprenticeship and ‘know’ how to do the job properly. In response, the safety specialist company asks to see their nozzle data charts, correct spark lighters and leak test solutions, which they are unable to produce. This means that operators are frequently using the wrong nozzle size for the job, not setting the correct pressures, and then not checking for leaks prior to lighting up the equipment, using the wrong type of spark lighter.

Fourthly, the question of Equipment Inspection and Replacement is relevant. Regulators and other items of gas control equipment should receive a visual inspection each time prior to use and be inspected at regular intervals, with written reports on their inspection being produced and kept.

It is a common misconception that regulators can be used indefinitely as long as they appear to be in good condition. In fact, gas regulators - and some other associated equipment - have a ‘life-span’ that is typically five years. Once they reach this age they must be replaced or professionally refurbished, irrespective of how much use they have had. It is not acceptable for organisations to state that they have not replaced equipment that has passed its expiry date based on the fact they felt ‘it was costly to do so’.

Additionally, gas control equipment tends to be checked but is not tagged to indicate the date of inspection and the ‘next due’ inspection date. In these instances it is not possible to demonstrate whether or not the equipment is safe to use.

The fifth factor concerns Piped Systems carrying gases or cryogenic liquids under pressure.

The majority of piped systems encountered are subject to the requirements of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR). A good number of these, including those cryogenic pressure storage vessels that fall under the scope of PSSR, do not have the relevant Written Scheme of Examination in place. This is a legal requirement however; companies cannot operate the equipment without one.

Additionally, few pipelines are inspected (examined) and pressure tested on a regular basis, which is also a legal requirement. This situation results in pressure systems being used that do not comply with legislation. Perhaps even more worrying is the practice of organisations installing their own piped systems which, unless they have the necessary experience and qualifications, is not permitted under the PSSR legislation.

The sixth and final factor covered here, concerns the Monitoring of Atmospheres. Few gas users are aware of the importance of this simple activity, as they are unaware of the consequences of a gas leak – possibly due to a lack of formal training.

Similarly, many gas users are unaware of the importance of appropriate ventilation and do not even know whether the gases they are using are lighter or heavier than air. This is fundamentally important if gas is leaking from damaged equipment or a poor connection and creating a potentially hazardous atmosphere. This is extremely relevant to users of cryogenic gases and operators who move gas cylinders in enclosed vehicles, but applies equally to anyone using gases.

Determining whether you are working safely with gas cylinders and cryogenic liquids, could be crucial to the safe, efficient and effective practice of operations within the industrial gases industry. In summary, Gas Safe kindly asks interested and affected gasworld readers to:

•Please ensure that all personnel who handle, store or use compressed gases and/or cryogenic liquids have received the proper formal training in line with UK legislation – we have an extensive range of training workshops should you find they have not.

•Please check that relevant and complete Risk Assessments are in place covering all aspects of gas cylinders and cryogenics; their storage, handling, transportation and use.

•Should you discover there is insufficient knowledge within your organisation for your staff to complete Risk Assessments relating to gases, please contact us for assistance; we provide a gas specific Risk Assessment service.

•Please check that detailed Standard Operating Procedures are in place and that operators have been trained to follow them.

•Please check that equipment such as regulators are regularly inspected, tagged and replaced in line with relevant Guidance Notes and/or Codes of Practice.

•Please check whether any piped system or pressurised cryogenic vessel within your organisation is subject to PSSR and whether it conforms. Should you need any assistance in this regard please contact us as we have a full range of services to assist.

•Please ensure that the need to monitor atmospheres in locations where gases are used has been considered; this will normally have been considered at the Risk Assessment stage. Please ensure that ‘worst case scenario’ calculations have been undertaken for all enclosed areas where gases are stored, handled, used or transported.

Special thanks go to Julie Broughton and the Gas Safe team for providing their dedicated insights into safety within the gases industry. For more information, contact the team at enquires@gassafeconsultants.co.uk or call 01270 758890 or visit the website at www.gassafeconsultants.co.uk.