Medical Gas Cylinder Storage
The invention of the oxygen cylinder was a significant development in the field of medicine. Oxygen and other gases were compressed and stored at high pressure in seamless containers constructed from hand-forged steel starting in 1880. Materials have evolved over the last century, and now medical gas cylinders are generally made of steel alloys or aluminum. The filling pressure and capacity have also increased considerably since the original cylinders were invented, and the weight of cylinders has been reduced. Today oxygen cylinders can hold pressures of up to 2,300 pounds per square inch. Modern cylinders are about the equivalent size as original steel cylinders, but they hold a third more oxygen and weigh about 40 pounds less.
The use of medical gas cylinders in health care facilities is covered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code and NFPA 55: Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards (29 CFR 1910), and Joint Commission Environment of Care standards (EC.02.01.01 [EP3] and EC.02.06.01 [EP 1]).
ISSUE - Terms and Concepts
- ASHE Monograph: Medical Gas Cylinder and Bulk Tank Storage (PDF) (Posted Dec. 1, 2015)
RISK – Defining Failure Modes
Compressed gas cylinders have the potential for creating hazardous working environments, and their proper storage is critical for their safe use. If a cylinder or cylinder valve is damaged by falling or by contact with other equipment, the cylinder could act like a projectile and fly through the air or spin in circles with great force until the pressure is exhausted. In addition to the high pressure hazard associated with all compressed gases, the physical properties of the gas within the cylinder may also present a particular hazard. Flammable gases can be ignited by the smallest of ignition sources, oxidizing gases can cause ordinary combustible material or even ordinarily non-combustible material to burn hot and bright, and some gases can displace the oxygen in an enclosed space, reducing the oxygen concentration below that needed to support human life. Additionally, because the compressed gases are such a minimal portion of the weight of the cylinder, empty cylinders can easily be mistaken as being full. The proper segregation of full and empty cylinders is important within the health care environment to maintain patient and staff safety.
IMPACT – Identifying Patient Outcomes
The improper handling of compressed gas cylinders can turn a cylinder into a highly dangerous and potentially lethal object. The improper segregation of full and empty cylinders can also put patient care at risk if a cylinder with an insufficient supply is used for patient care. Making sure that compressed gas cylinders are properly handled and stored according to established requirements within NFPA 99, NFPA 55, and facility specific safety plans is vital to protecting staff, visitors, and patients.
MITIGATION – Assessment Tools and Resources