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How safe are your gas handling policies?

Handling compressed gases is more risky than handling liquids or solid materials because there are hazardous properties unique to gases-pressure, diffusivity, low flash points, low boiling points, and no convenient means of detecting anomalies.

Companies in the industrial sector using large quantities of gas on continuous basis have had to establish safety programs that are regulated by various government bodies. By contrast, R&D laboratories have not been required to account for the quantity, storage, and use of these potentially dangerous products to the same extent as large plants, because of the normally small amounts of gas in use.

Now, however, smaller facilities, including R&D laboratories located within universities and industrial firms, are initiating programs on their own. They realize the need to protect workers from exposure to these potentially hazardous substances.

The following checklist is intended to serve as a guide in establishing and maintaining a safe laboratory environment as it relates to compressed gases.

* Buy only the quantities you need. Laboratories tend to order larger cylinders than necessary because they think it's more cost effective on a cost-per-unit-weight or unit-volume basis. Despite economies of scale, there is no need to buy more than is required. The cost savings do not justify the potential dangers involved.

Often, research projects do not use all of what is purchased. The result is that a gas cylinder may sit in the laboratory for extended periods, increasing the chance of contamination and polymerization. Some of these products may be corrosive, flammable, or toxic, and all are potential hazards, due to their high pressure.

* Read all label information and material safety data sheets associated with the gas before using the cylinders. It is very important to know the chemical and physical properties of the gas you are working with.

When a cylinder is delivered, it should have content identification, a DOT label, a valve-protection cap, and dust plug in place. All labels on a cylinder should agree with the cylinder markings. Under no circumstances should a cylinder be accepted that uses color as its Sole identification. Color codes are of value only in helping the supplier segregate large numbers of cylinders.

* Never drop cylinders or permit them to strike each other violently. Do not drag, roll, or slide cylinders during transport; use a suitable hand truck, even for short distances, securing the cylinder to the truck with a chain or belt. The valve-protection cap should remain in place until the cylinder has been secured against a wall or bench, or until it is placed in a cylinder stand.

Cylinders may be stored in the open, but should be protected from the ground to prevent rusting. Do not store full and empty cylinders together. Severe suck-back can occur when an empty cylinder is attached to a pressurized system.

Use cylinders in the order received from the supplier, on a first-in-out basis. Storage areas should be set up to accommodate this rotation.

* Check for leaks. Hazards may arise as a result of leakage from systems that are not pressure-tight. Diffusion of leaking gases may cause rapid contamination of the atmosphere, giving rise to toxicity, anesthetic effects, asphyxiation, or rapid formation of explosive concentrations of flammable gases.

* Avoid exposing any part of a cylinder to a temperature higher than 125 F. Nor should cylinders be subjected to temperatures of - 20 F or lower, because some types of steel lose their ductility and impact strength at low temperatures.

Never place cylinders where they may become part of an electric circuit. Bond and ground all cylinders, lines, and equipment used with flammable compressed gases. Also, keep reducing gases and fuel gases away from oxidizers.

* Use and store compressed gases only in a well ventilated area. Toxic, flammable, corrosive, and asphyxiating gases should be handled in a hood, and use the smallest size cylinder which will get the job done.

When using compressed gases, wear appropriate protective equipment. Gas masks should be kept nearby when working with toxic and corrosive gases.

When returning empty cylinders to the vendor, close the valve before shipment, leaving some positive pressure in the cylinder. Replace the valve outlet and protective cap originally shipped with the cylinder. Be sure to mark the cylinder "empty," and store it in a designated area for shipment to the vendor.

* Rely on the experts. It is important to remember that as a gas user you are not alone in developing the necessary safety precautions. Your suppliers are the experts. In addition to their responsibility for proper delivery, they should also inform you of all regulations pertaining to cylinder gases--from storage through usage to proper disposal.

In the 1990s, R&D laboratories can expect some major changes, mainly to assure safety for personnel as well as the environment. And suppliers will take on a greater responsibility to teach their customers about safe handling of compressed gases.

Daniel Weadock is vice president of marketing for Matheson Gas Products, Secaucus, NJ. He has a BS in chemistry from Manhattan College, New York, and an MBA in marketing. Lloyd Kent is a product manager for Matheson. He has a BS in chemistry from Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ.
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Title Annotation:compressed gases in research laboratories
Author:Weadock, Daniel; Kent, Lloyd
Publication:R & D
Date:Feb 18, 1992
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