Non-profit organisations or associations have been established in many countries by those companies active in all aspects of the industrial gases industry.

The term ‘industrial gases’ refers to gases such as acetylene, argon, ammonia, carbon dioxide, chlorine, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, that are used in a wide range of applications and also includes speciality gases and equipment used in the electronics, food, scientific & medical sectors.

The main purpose of these organisations is to develop and maintain technical standards for equipment used by the industry, to assist in the preparation of practicable and relevant legislation and regulations, and to liaise on technical and safety matters affecting the industry as a whole.

The membership of these organisations includes manufacturers and distributors of gases, manufacturers of gas cylinders, gas valves, gas regulators, gas welding and cutting equipment, other equipment and systems used with gases and the designers, and installers of pipework systems for the distribution of gases. Associate membership is available to companies, organisations and individuals who have a training, technical or other related interest in the work of the association.

Gas associations are active in many countries including Europe, Japan, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and also play varying roles in facilitating effective training and skills development.

The Compressed Gases Association (CGA)
The oldest industrial gases association, the US’ Compressed Gas Association (CGA) has been dedicated to the development and promotion of safety standards and safe practices in the industrial gas industry since its formation in 1913.

More than 125 member companies worldwide now work together to achieve the shared objectives. The work of CGA is carried out by committees of volunteers from member companies having expertise in the particular areas targeted. Each of these committees focuses on work item projects through its sub-committees and task forces.

The European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA)
EIGA fully co-operates with all national industrial gas associations and regional industrial gas associations around the world such as AIGA (Asia), ANZIGA (Australia/New Zealand), CGA (US), JIMGA (Japan), and SACGA (South Africa), which are all associated members of EIGA.

The Bristish Compressed Gases Association (BCGA)
The BCGA was established in 1971, formed out of the British Acetylene Association, which had existed since 1901.

The BCGA Technical Committee (TC) and Technical Sub-Committee (TSC) arrangements provide a structure and forum for member companies to come together to discuss industry issues and agree focus areas and maintain involvement with other organisations such as the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA), British Standards Organisation (BSI), European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) aong others.

Despite similarities in structure and purpose, the BCGA assumes a somewhat unique stance because while recognising the needs of the membership, it also proactively tries to direct the safety-related information right down to small customers or to the emergency services who must deal with any incident. In contrast, EIGA, while offering all its guidance documents free, still sees its target audience as primarily the ‘Gases Industry’.

The TSC’s carry out the day-to-day work of developing standards (codes of practice), guidance and other information to be published by the BCGA that is targeted at the gases industry, but much of it is equally applicable to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who form the bulk of the customer base. It is for this reason that the BCGA has long produced a range of Technical Information Sheets for end-users that provide a simple, condensed guide for any specific issues.

Many SMEs find the whole concept of risk assessment intimidating and simply avoid it. As a consequence, many gas users do not apply very simple control measures that could help them minimise or avoid serious incidents.

The BCGA and HASAG publication ‘Model Risk Assessment’ is designed to lead the user through a step-by-step process. Similar documents from HASAG aim to improve gas user Health & Safety Performance, Manual Handling and the Use of Cryogenic Liquid Dewars.

The BCGA approach in action
An example of the BCGA approach to the management and mitigation of risks associated with the handling of gases is related to in the current Phase III testing work on fire-exposed acetylene cylinders by the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM).

The research has demonstrated the effectiveness of a vastly reduced precautionary cooling period of one hour, followed by one further hour of monitoring.

The BCGA has contributed on three levels:
* Fundamental research into the effects of fire on acetylene cylinders and determination of the potential for decomposition or explosion.
* Working with the emergency services to educate them on the new exclusion zones requirements.
* Focused work at end-users to help them understand the risk associated with using acetylene and the specific control measures that they can apply as mitigation.

The previous level of response by the emergency services of imposing a 200m, 24-hour exclusion zone resulted in fairly minor incidents becoming very high profile, due to the closure of major railway stations or highways. The revised protocol will greatly reduce the disruption and save considerable Fire Service personnel and appliance time.

Training and the BCGA
“In the UK the primary objective of the BCGA is to promote safe practice throughout the gases industry and the association recognises the fundamental part that training can play in achieving the desired level of safety performance,” explains BCGA Chief Executive Doug Thornton.

“And furthermore, the association is committed to supporting all gas users in meeting the requirements under the Health & Safety at Work Act for employees to be formally trained in the carrying out of their duties.”

This places a general duty on employers to provide formal training to their employees in:
* The properties and hazards of the gases
* How to handle the gases and containers
* How to operate any equipment using the gases
* How to maintain such equipment
* What to do in case of unplanned gas escapes
* The use of appropriate protective equipment

Incidentally, gasworld will be bringing updates from the ongoing BAM Phase III research into fire-exposed acetylene cylinders in the coming weeks, courtesy of the BCGA. Watch the gasworld website for further news.