The Invisible Industry

Compressed industrial, food and medical gases improve quality of life and are essential to hundreds of thousands of people in the UK every day. 

They are the nation’s ‘invisible industry’ - a multi-billion pound sector employing thousands of people, which makes a huge impact to our economic and social well-being. 


The Shape of the Industry

The BCGA’s mission is to ensure safety in the use, storage, transportation and handling of industrial, food and medical gases.

Companies which manufacture and supply these vital gases are also committed to the highest standards of safety and quality, which is why they choose to become members of the BCGA.

The BCGA’s 80-plus members employ 19,000 people directly and account for an annual turnover of approximately £2.7 billion. 

The areas in which these members operate make a significant contribution across the UK economy, the well-being of the nation and the power and efficiency of its industry.

From the point of manufacture right through to the delivery of compressed gases to the point of need – be it to the industrial production site, food and drink processing plants or patients - BCGA members ensure the safe passage of gas products to perform their vital role at every stage.

Those in membership include manufacturers of compressed gas products. These companies operate at the cutting-edge of technology, using high performance plants and well-trained staff to produce gases which the nation relies upon - and working to stringent standards in areas including safety, sustainability and quality.

Other companies in BCGA membership include the manufacturers of compressed gas cylinders who, as well as well ensuring a strong focus on safety, are supporting new and emerging technologies. This includes the use of composite materials, as well as traditional metals. New designs of cylinders capable of storing the fuel for a new generation of green vehicles are also emerging.

Further specialist sectors include manufacturers and installers of valves, hoses, regulators and pipes, who ensure that gas is provided exactly when and where it is needed, safely and accurately. 

Another growing area of innovation among BCGA members is the delivery of medical grade gas to patients in a way which supports their quality of life. The manufacture of light, mobile cylinders means people needing to access medical gas can benefit from a less static method of delivery, which operates beyond the confines of their home or care centre.

It is a legal requirement for all gas cylinders which are used for the transport of gases by road to be inspected and retested within a defined timescale. BCGA members are committed to ensuring compliance and in making sure that their customers can rely on receiving safe cylinders.

Government-registered cylinder testing companies are included in BCGA membership, who are authorised to carry out the required Periodic Inspection and Test of gas cylinders.

Finally, in-keeping with the industry’s commitment to high skill levels and best practice, a number of training providers are also in membership of the BCGA.


The Power Of Compressed Gases

Compressed gases are used in the UK across three main sectors – industrial gases, food and drink gases and medical gases.


Industrial Gases 

Industrial gases perform a wide-ranging role, supporting the manufacture of information technology, as well as key UK industrial sectors including steelmaking, refining, welding, chemical processing and electronics. They also help keep homes warm and water clean.

Industrial gases are also emerging as a major force in the quest for greener transportation in the UK.

The BCGA has seen a surge in demand for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vehicles across the UK’s haulage and fleet industries.

Compelling efficiency savings and lower emissions have led to the rise, and an increasing number of fuel stations are introducing CNG and LNG dispensing systems on their sites. 

Another exciting development is the emergence of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV’s).

The benefits of FCEV technology include zero tailpipe emissions, no Nitrogen Oxides emissions (a problem associated with diesel engines) and a realistic driving range in excess of 300 miles.


Food and Drink Gases

Food gases keep food nutritious, appealing and affordable, with methods used including modified atmosphere packing (MAP), which extends shelf live, keeps food fresh and reduces waste.

The use of gases for beer and other drinks is also widespread in the UK. Beverage gases are essential for the efficiency of drink dispense systems and the quality of the product being served. Drinks dispense gas is supplied at a quality standard appropriate for food, in a cylinder that is correctly labelled, including identification as a ‘food grade gas’, tested and in good condition.


Medical Gases 

Medical gases play a critical role in applications including respiratory care, pain therapies and anaesthesia.

These gases, and their associated equipment, are widely used for treating patients in hospitals, at home, and by the emergency services. The types of gas in use within these environments include oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and various gas mixes.

A major use for oxygen is in mechanical ventilation for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Other uses of gas in healthcare environments include a nitrous oxide-oxygen blend, which offers expectant mothers effective pain relief during childbirth, while nitric oxide is used as a therapeutic inhalant in combination with respiratory support for newborns.

Calibration gas mixtures are used to maintain the reliability and accuracy of medical devices to ensure accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatment for patients.


A Safe and Regulated Industry

As this white paper sets out, compressed gases have a critical role to play in many areas of life across the UK – and it is vital they are manufactured and operate within a safe and highly-regulated industry.

At the core of the BCGA’s role is ‘Mission Safety.’ The association’s members work together on technical, safety, health and environmental issues to achieve high standards of integrity and environmental care, both within their own and customers’ working environments. 

The BCGA also actively promotes safety practice through its many publications and participates in the preparation and revision of National, European and International Standards. BCGA publications are regarded as industry best practice documents by Government Competent Authorities and the Enforcement Agencies. This guidance includes codes of practice, guidance notes, technical reports and technical information sheets. Leaflets, safety alerts and industry information can also be found in this area of the website.

Regular dialogue is also held between the BCGA and government departments and agencies, standard organisations and other trade associations to achieve its objectives. 

New and better ways to help the UK’s economy, environment and people will continue to drive the compressed gases industry. The combined expertise of the BCGA and its membership will be critical to making this happen – and to ensure the ‘invisible industry’ continues to uphold its important and trusted role in the UK.

Further Reading

You can download a leaflet setting out the importance of the ‘Invisible Industry'.