Four points to think about when storing gas cylinders

Gas cylinders stored within a designated smoking area. Does that sound like a good idea to you? No, probably not, and as a fire risk assessor it’s the kind of thing that makes my blood run cold. And yet I’ve come across this risky practice more than once while out fire risk assessing. That’s why this month’s blog is designed to get you thinking about how you store any gas cylinders you have at your premises - even a single cylinder can pose a significant risk. 

It’s usually the case that people just haven’t thought through the potential dangers. That’s why the fire risk assessment process is so vital. Clearly the requirements for risk control depend on what end of the spectrum your business is at. If you only need one or two cylinders, you’re not going to be required to put in place all the measures expected of an industrial premises storing vast quantities for manufacturing use. But there’s still a risk to be managed.  Your responsible person (or a professional on their behalf) must carry out a fire risk assessment on all gas cylinder storage areas to identify the hazards and associated risks.  That should then become part of your overall fire safety management plan. Here are just a few pointers on the kinds on issues to be aware of:

·         Whereabouts can they be stored?

How many gas cylinders are there? What’s the proximity to occupied buildings and routes for traffic? What are the hazards that could arise from the specific type of gas you are storing? Can cylinders be safely located near to other materials? Could they be at risk from vandalism?

All of these factors need to be properly assessed and then steps put in place to make sure specific safety obligations are met.

·         Do you have any possible ignition sources in your storage area?

If you’re storing any flammable gases (or liquids) the area will be classified as a hazardous area for the control of ignition sources. That requires you to consider any possible ignition sources that could pose a risk, including looking at all of the operational and maintenance activities in the area.

·         Is your storage layout safe?

If you have just one or two cylinders then the storage layout will be less of an issue but even so, you must always bear fire safety in mind.  Pressurised cylinders must be stored with their valves uppermost. The height and method of stacking will depend on the type of gas stored as well as the construction of the actual cylinder. But limit the size of any stack and make sure you have safe separation distances between them. They should be located in such a way that they can easily be accessed for transportation too.

·         What is the ventilation like?

Gas cylinders should, wherever possible, be stored outdoors to reduce the risk of gas leaking out and building up to create an explosion risk. But this isn’t always an option. If you must have gas cylinders stored inside, it’s vital you check you have sufficient ventilation. If the gas is highly flammable, you may only be permitted to store it in purpose-built compartments or in an area with fire resistant walls and explosion relief measures.

 

Once you have all this information, you’re also in a position to start thinking about the other steps necessary to control all the risks including putting active and passive fire protection in place along with any required signage.  Ensure your fire planning and emergency procedures take into account the fact that you are both storing and using gas cylinders.

If you feel you need some professional support with this (or any other aspect of your fire risk assessment process), please do get in touch with me for some advice.

 Posted: September 1st 2018

 

Debbie Thomas