Gas cylinders are designed and constructed to safely contain a gas under pressure.
All cylinders contain gases which are stored under pressure, this can vary from a low pressure to a very high pressure. This pressure can result in significant stored energy being contained within the cylinder.
Different gases may have different properties, each with its own associated hazards, for example, flammable, oxidising, inert, toxic, etc.
If involved in a fire, a cylinder will heat up. This heat will have an effect on the materials the cylinder is manufactured from and it will increase the temperature, and therefore the pressure, of the gas. If exposed to extreme heat all gas cylinders are at risk of failure and may suddenly rupture due to over pressure. The presence of flammable or oxidant gases can have a significant effect on the severity of the fire. Other gases may introduce an additional hazard(s) in the local area.
Acetylene. Exceptionally, dissolved acetylene has distinct properties which requires specific post fire actions. The direct heat of a fire may, in extreme circumstances, initiate decomposition of acetylene. This is an exothermic (heat creating) reaction, which can cause a dissolved acetylene cylinder to reheat after the initial fire is extinguished.
The Fire and Rescue Service have procedures to manage acetylene, as well as all other gas cylinders involved in a fire.
BCGA Leaflet 6 provides information for managing cylinders involved in fires.
When not in use, gas cylinders should always be stored in a well ventilated, secure gas cylinder store compliant with BCGA CP 44. When in use, they should always be managed in accordance with your work place risk assessment. This should implement controls to minimise the risk of a gas cylinder being involved in a fire.
If a gas cylinder has been in a fire incident involving the Fire and Rescue Service, they will advise when it is safe to approach the cylinder.
Do not use any cylinders which have been involved in a fire, or which may have been subjected to excessive heat. Some may have obvious damage, some may have had their mechanical properties affected by heat, not all damage will be noticeable to the naked eye.
Always inform the owner (gas supplier) of a gas cylinder which has been in a fire or subjected to excessive heat. They will provide advice on the next action to take, which will vary depending on the circumstances.
To resolve some of the concerns held over managing acetylene cylinders in a fire, BCGA co-ordinated a major research project involving five stakeholder parties, namely BCGA, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA), the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL). This was conducted during 2008 and 2009 by the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM). BAM is world renowned in acetylene science and research.
Their task was to find out, with certainty, after how many hours of realistic cooling to a dissolved acetylene cylinder can we be sure that no decomposition can be ongoing and that therefore it is safe to close out an incident completely?
The results from the BAM work may be summarised as follows:
The BAM work was discussed extensively with the Fire and Rescue Service and with (the Government department responsible at that time) the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) expert panel of consultant Professors. A recommendation was accepted that one hour cooling, followed by a further one hour monitoring as a precaution would be more than prudent. This agreed with the empirical evidence found at real incidents.
The findings of the BAM research are of global significance, providing a scientific basis to the procedures adopted by our Fire and Rescue Service. BCGA strongly recommend that this UK protocol is adopted in other countries to help mitigate any needless disruption.
The findings from the BAM research, which advised a 1 hour cooling, plus a 1 hour monitoring protocol for acetylene cylinders which have been exposed to direct fire, were incorporated into the guidance.
This Fire and Rescue Service National Operational Guidance for hazardous materials is regularly updated (but the 1 + 1 hour protocol for acetylene cylinders remains unchanged)
The National Operational Guidance is of primary interest to operational firefighters. Section 3 is the main source of information for gases.
The Acetylene Safety (England and Wales and Scotland) Regulations (SI 2014 No. 1639) regulate the use of acetylene. The regulations include a provision which MANDATES the use of flashback arrestors on oxy-acetylene sets.
The HSE provide guidance on the safe use of acetylene, along with a range of additional information, on their website.
BCGA CP 7 sets out the minimum safety standards required for the assembly, examination, inspection, maintenance and use of cylinder oxy-fuel gas equipment.
This document defines the principles of safe practice for the storage of gas cylinders and bundles. It promotes the use of an outdoor store, with good natural ventilation, in a secure location, which meets the required separation distances.Go To Download Page
Provides guidance on the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) which require all sites, where there are gas containers, to undertake a risk assessment and, where necessary, to implement appropriate controls.Go To Download Page
This document has been withdrawn, refer to Code of Practice 7, The safe use of oxy-fuel gas equipment (individual portable or mobile cylinder supply).
This document provides technical information on the different properties of acetylene and propane to help the user make an informed choice when choosing a fuel gas for welding, cutting and allied processes.Go To Download Page
BCGA Leaflet L6 provides advice on the actions to take in the event of a fire on or near gas cylinders.Go To Download Page
BCGA publish several publications providing advice on managing gas cylinders. All BCGA publications are accessible via the Publications page.