Every year, fire and rescue services attend hundreds of fires and incidents involving acetylene cylinders.
If a cylinder is involved in fire, the risk of explosion can last for up to 24 hours after the fire has been extinguished.
If a cylinder explodes it can cause:
- Travelling fireballs
- Projectile hazards
- Structural damage to near by buildings
- Death and injuries
Impact on the community and business
Any fire involving acetylene will cause severe disruption.
This could involve a 200 metre radius hazard zone, for up to 24 hours, meaning:
- People will have to leave their homes
- Businesses will have to close
- Roads closed, including motorways
- Rail services suspended
- Schools and hospitals closed and evacuated
Businesses, including those that use acetylene, are required to comply with key laws that include:
Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002
This requires businesses to assess the risks of work activities with dangerous substances and to eliminate, substitute, or reduce the risks as far as reasonably practical.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (FSO) 2005
This requires a responsible person (typically the business owner) to carry out a fire risk assessment.
The assessment should take account of the impact that a fire involving a cylinder might have on surrounding premises and people.
The Order became law on 1 October 2006.
In addition, your insurance company may require you to inform them if you use acetylene on your premises.
Include the following points in your emergency plan:
- If safe to do so, remove acetylene cylinders whilst evacuating
- Store only what is required and not in bulk
- Store securely outside when the building is not occupied
- If used inside a building, ensure the trolley is close to an exit
- Keep plans of the location of acetylene cylinders
- Train staff on what to do in the event of fire
Some welding or cutting jobs can be done without the use of acetylene:
- Arc welding (electric)
- Tungsten inert gas welding (TIG)
- Metal inert gas welding (MIG)
- Mechanical cutting
- Use of a sub-contractor for welding activities
Safe storage and use of acetylene
If you need to use acetylene you should:
- Carry out a risk assessment (FSO and DSEAR)
- Inform the local fire and rescue service (acetylene is classified as a dangerous substance)
- Store in accordance with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance
- Ensure cylinders are stored in the upright position
- Store cylinders in a well ventilated area away from heat sources, flammables and corrosive oils/materials
- Always use the correct personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Ensure flashback arrestors are fitted
- Read and understand the safety data sheets
Returning acetylene cylinders
- Contact your supplier – they should remove it for free
- The details can normally be found on the shoulder of the cylinder
- Advice on disposal can be obtained from your supplier