Acetylene Safety

At BOC we put our customers' and employees' safety first

Acetylene Safety

Between 2003 and the end of 2012, the UK Fire and Rescue Service operated a very disruptive protocol for dealing with fires involving (or suspected to involve) acetylene cylinders. This original protocol caused much misinformation to circulate about the behaviour of acetylene in response to fire – and in turn influenced the Health and Safety Executive and many ancillary bodies, such as insurers, to recommend that oxy-acetylene should be replaced by oxy-propane where possible.

Following detailed research, this has since been re-assessed through the ‘BAM Research’ project. You can find out more on the BCGA website. The Fire and Rescue Service protocol for acetylene fires was officially changed with effect from 30th November 2012.

The reality now is that an acetylene fire need be no more disruptive than any other fire involving gas cylinders and that in many scenarios, oxy-acetylene is the safer option to choose.

Promoting good safety practices with clear safety guidance

Secure It. Ventilate It. Respect It.

There are a number of practical tips and guidelines that users can follow to control the risks when transporting or handling acetylene.

These are outlined in the following:

Good Practices

  1. Make sure the cylinder shut-off valve is closed before transport and during storage.
  2. Never rely on gas equipment such as torches or regulators to shut off the gas.
  3. Transport cylinders in a suitably ventilated vehicle: an open or flatbed truck or trailer or a ventilated gas compartment in an enclosed vehicle, pneumatically sealed from the driver and passenger cabin.
  4. Make sure the cylinders are properly restrained and valves are protected during transport.
  5. Drive directly to your destination and unload the cylinders immediately when you get there. If the cylinders have not remained vertical throughout, allow them to stand vertically for a minimum of 60 minutes before use.
  6. Never store flammable gas cylinders in an unventilated vehicle.
  7. Always comply with all local regulations governing the transport of cylinders in vehicles and the safe unloading and storage of acetylene cylinders. This can include specific measures such as signage on the vehicle, a fire extinguisher, safety information in the vehicle and safety training for the driver.

Identifying the risks that can arise if acetylene is not transported and handled responsibly

Secure It. Ventilate It. Respect It.

Transported and used correctly, acetylene is a very safe gas. However, our research shows that a minority of users fail to follow good practice guidelines, resulting in the following potential risks:

Acetylene Hazards

1. Secure It

Some customer vehicles are not fitted with appropriate restraints to prevent cylinders from toppling over or moving around in the vehicle. This can result in fires and injuries. There are two sources of hazard here. During transport, the cylinder handwheel valve can knock against something which opens the valve. This allows gas to escape, and can result in a fire or explosion. Also, cylinders are very heavy and will be travelling at the same speed as the vehicle. If the driver brakes and the cylinders are not adequately secured, they will be propelled forward and can cause severe damage or injury.

2. Ventilate It

Some acetylene cylinders are collected and transported in unventilated vehicles. In the event of a leak – no matter how minor – gas can build up in the vehicle and result in a fire or explosion. This risk is magnified over prolonged storage periods. For instance, some users – once they have finished their day’s work – leave their cylinders in an unventilated vehicle overnight. This gives gas leaks a chance to build up over time. This risk is compounded by inappropriate use of the regulator to shut off the gas supply. The regulator can easily leak so it is essential that the shut-off valve is used for this purpose.

3. Respect It

Acetylene cylinders contain a porous mass and liquid acetone that dissolves the gas. If a cylinder has been transported, it must be left to settle in an upright position on arrival. This gives the liquid acetone time to return to its correct place in the porous mass. Failure to do so can cause quality problems with acetone liquid getting into the gas. In extreme situations, this might make the cylinder less safe to use.

Taking the lead to make safety the number one priority

Secure It. Ventilate It. Respect It.

At BOC, safety is our number one priority – both within and beyond company walls.

So we have decided to take the lead in promoting acetylene safety and encouraging best practices in the transport, handling and use of all gas cylinders.

Acetylene Safety Positive Action

1. Education

This starts with educating our customers on the potential risks of acetylene. Our awareness and education efforts focus on mitigating injuries and fatalities through communication campaigns such as our joint initiative with the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA). We deliver this information directly to our customers through our worldwide distribution and retail network, backing up these efforts with direct communication and training opportunities.

2. Training

Complementing our education activities, we offer further gas safety training to all customer-facing gas retailers and continue to work closely with trade associations and industry bodies to encourage maximum observance of the new safety guidelines.

3. Practical Support

We also offer a range of practical services to help customers with their concrete transport needs. If, for instance, you do not have a suitable vehicle, your local BOC retailer can deliver for you. We can also help if your valve is not protected. Your BOC retail outlet or gas agent will fit a disposable plastic cap to the handwheel to prevent it being knocked open during transport. You can dispose of these after your journey or keep them for re-use.

After several years of extensive research in the UK and Germany, the Government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser (CFRA) has published new operational guidance on dealing with acetylene cylinders involved in fires.

In the event of a fire, new best practice requires just one hour of water cooling on the cylinder with a hazard zone of up to 200m if appropriate, followed by a further hour of precautionary monitoring. This is a considerable improvement on the previous guidance, published in 2003, which required any acetylene cylinder that has been involved in a fire to be cooled for 24 hours.

The CFRA’s new best practice is a result of work by the German Federal Institute for Material Testing and Research and a five-year study of acetylene cylinder incidents attended by London Fire Brigade. It brings the UK Fire and Rescue Service into line with other fire and rescue services around the world.

The revised guidance is available to download as a PDF on the government services and information website and the relevant chapter on acetylene cylinders starts at page 295.