All life on planet Earth depends on oxygen. It is an odorless, colorless gas which is critical for the survival of all living beings, because we need oxygen in order to breath. Human beings cannot survive more than 4-6 minutes without oxygen. Oxygen is especially important for people who suffer from illnesses, especially those afflicted with chronic respiratory diseases or lung problems. Such patients struggle to breathe oxygen on their own like most of the people, and need the assistance of Oxygen cylinders to pump necessary amounts of this important substance into their bodies. Are oxygen cylinders a fire risk? Let’s explore
Oxygen cylinders are metal devices filled with oxygen. These oxygen tanks usually come in two different configurations: a pressured gas tank or a cryogenic storage cylinder, depending on the method of in which the gas is being stored. Utilities of oxygen cylinder are wide-ranging. They are used in welding in conjunction with flame cutters, in areas where the air is compressed such as hotels and resorts at high-altitude areas and deep-sea diving submarines, for preserving food and packaging, and in chemical plants and steel factories. However, the most common use of oxygen cylinders is to provide supplemental oxygen to people suffering from respiratory diseases.
For all its life saving properties, oxygen also poses significant risks because of the fact that it is an accelerant for fire. In fact, oxygen is one of the three main elements required for the initiation and spread of fire: the other two being sources of ignition and fuel. The smallest of sparks can result in a devastating fire due to the presence of oxygen.
Oxygen cylinders are pressurized tanks, which contain oxygen in a highly-pressurized liquid or gaseous form. Any mishandling can cause a fire due to either the forceful entrance of debris in the cylinder’s regulator and heating it up too much, or the increase in pressure due to exposure to outside air which causes a sudden rise in temperature.
Oxygen cylinders manufactured from sub-standard materials also present a fire risk, due to the fact that if they become damaged, they release the highly-pressured oxygen within, which may come in contact with surrounding flames or sources of ignition. Such instances can result in big explosions, let alone fire, and can cause serious damage to human lives and surrounding property.
If one needs an oxygen tank for any purpose, it is pertinent to make sure that it has been manufactured by a government-approved company, and is of high-quality. Moreover, fire safety assessments of the building also help, because those assessments also take into account the health and strength of oxygen cylinders, and inform the building owners whether oxygen tanks inside their buildings are susceptible to fire risk or not.
Oxygen cylinders are a source of supplementary oxygen for various purposes. Many industries make use of these devices, but none more so than the health sector, where the provision of supplementary oxygen to needy patients is a matter of life and death. Due to high combustibility provided by oxygen though, these devices can be seriously dangerous if mishandled. For this reason, it is necessary to make that the oxygen tanks in use are always constructed of high-quality materials, and everyone coming in contact with them is properly trained to do so. Conducting necessary fire risk assessments of the premises is also very useful as those assessments provide information on the trustworthiness of oxygen cylinder inside buildings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Oxygen cylinder are metal tanks filled with oxygen, which is a highly combustible gas. Great care is exercised while using oxygen cylinders, because and mishandling can result in them getting in contact with an ignition source, and they can blow up instantly. That is why these tanks are only handled by professionals who are extensively trained in their usage.
There are two ways in which an oxygen tank may catch fire suddenly:
1) Particle Ignition
If an oxygen cylinder is opened without due care and taking proper precautions, tiny pieces of debris may enter the regulator with force, which creates kinetic energy that might heat the oxygen tank enough to provide a source of ignition.
2) Adiabatic ignition
Sometimes while opening an oxygen cylinder, the pressure increases and causes an increase in temperature, which may cause the tank to catch fire. This usually happens in oxygen tanks which are damaged in some place, or have been manufactured with low-quality material.
Oxygen cylinders are mostly used inside hospitals to provide supplementary oxygen to patients who need it. These devices fall under the authority of the governments’ fire risk safety regulation. The regulatory bodies usually ensure the safety of oxygen cylinders by making it mandatory for all building owners and business managers to carry out necessary fire risk assessments of their premises, which also includes reviewing oxygen cylinder as part of the assessment.
The regulators also ensure that the companies manufacturing these devices also follow strict guidelines regarding their construction, and the materials being used. For this reason, the incidents of oxygen tanks blowing up and causing casualties have been very few and far between, and oxygen cylinders are mostly considered safe to use.
Oxygen is highly combustible, and a room with an overload of oxygen will result in the air becoming condensed with increasing energy and heat, making the room more susceptible to a sudden fire incident. For this reason, increase in oxygen levels inside a room is considered a sign of danger.
Due to oxygen being a highly-combustible gas, oxygen tanks always run the potential risk of blowing up if not handled properly. If an oxygen tank falls over, and exposes the tightly packed oxygen to outside air, the resulting pressure can cause a fire due to increasing pressure and temperature. A fire may also get sparked if any debris makes its way into the regulator forcefully, and ignite it.
John Adrian is a seasoned assessor in various environmental hazard fields and has combined his evaluation nous with an impressive know-how about all the rules and regulations concerning environmental hazard evaluations such as Fire Risk, Legionella Risk, and Asbestos Risk. He has been utilizing his knowledge to help people conduct necessary hazard assessments and ensure compliance with concerned government regulators.
The keen passion of Fire Safety Risk Assessment is to offer professional services, delivered in a timely manner. For all businesses, commercial premises & landlords, FSRA keeps your businesses safe controlling the risk of loss from fire hazards, asbestos risks and from legionella bacteria.