Hazards of Acetylene

Acetylene is the most commonly used gas for fueling cutting and welding torches.  The very molecular structure of acetylene is what makes the gas both ideally useful and hazardous. Each molecule consists of two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms that are held together by a triple carbon bond. This unstable bond stores a lot of energy. When acetylene is mixed with oxygen and the bond is broken, the result is the high temperatures needed to melt metal alloys. The temperature of the flame from the mixture can reach over 5700°F!

Generally, the men and women who use acetylene torches are familiar with the fire hazards associated hot flames and the production of hot slag. However, there are many unique characteristics of acetylene itself that create special hazards compared to other fuel gases. This gas has the widest explosive range of any commonly used gas. When mixed with air, the explosive range is from 2.5% to 82%. Acetylene leaks, no matter how small, can have serious consequences.

Some tips for safely using and storing acetylene:

  • Always use acetylene in a well vented area, and never in a confined space.
  • When using around electrical equipment, research the National Electric Code’s special designation for using electrical equipment around acetylene.
  • Acetylene should never be allowed to come into contact with certain metals such as unalloyed copper.
  • Do not store or use acetylene at pressures greater than 15 psi. Cylinder pressures are rated for 250 psi but this is acceptable because the gas is dissolved in acetone.)
  • Bleed the gas from the regulator by closing the cylinder valve before shutting off the regulator, to permit gas to bleed from the regulator.
  • Always cap and secure stored cylinders upright to prevent them from falling over and damaging the valve or cylinder.
  • Acetylene cylinders are not hollow. They are packed with porous rock that is saturated with acetone. Acetylene is dissolved in the acetone. As a result, cylinders should only be used or stored in an upright position. This prevents possibility of the acetone leaking from the cylinder. If this is not possible, rest the cylinder upright for one-half hour before using. This prevents liquid acetone from running through your regulator during use.
  • Do not store cylinders near open flames or electrical equipment. Never store acetylene, or any other fuel gas, within 25 feet of oxygen cylinders. If this separation is not possible, erect a noncombustible (1/2-hour fire rated) partition, at least five feet high, between the two gases in storage.

Remember, improperly handling compressed gases can lead to serious fires, explosions, or releases due to pressure buildup in cylinders or reactions with other materials. Always use correct procedures for handling and using acetylene gas. Talking about the hazards and proper handling and storing procedures with your coworkers reduces the risk of an incident.

Line Break Safety Plan and Permitting

Installing a new pipe system typically comes with certain unexpected risks. These challenges and problems must be addressed in order to ensure safety and mitigate those risks while modifying a functioning pipe system.

Because of the complexity and the hazards associated with modifying or changing a pipe system, establishing a formalized a process that will help protect each other from injury from either chemical contamination or an unexpected release of pressure.  Here are a few tips on what to cover when creating a Line Break Permitting Process:

  • Define the Scope of Work including identification of the material in the Pipe System and understand if the system is pressurized. Get the MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET (MSDS) and understand the pressure in all sections of pipe. Discuss the scope with all parties, this may include customers, engineering or maintenance departments, Project Managers… Seek out the people who understand the specifics of the pipe system you are modifying.
  • Create a Work Plan that includes a Safety Plan. In the Safety plan, discuss the PPE and boundary requirements necessary to protect your employees and the others working nearby, property, whether yours or your customers. Consider the safety items that need to be communicated with the people performing the work. For example: locate and verify working condition of nearest eye wash shower stations, plan to control or collect any residual liquid and know how to correctly dispose of it.

Before beginning work, review and communicate to everyone involved the Safety Plan, a Job Safety Analysis, and Line Break Permit followed with creation of the boundary and verification of all PPE. A few other things to consider:

  • Verify all pumps and valves are locked out. If applicable, ask the customer or “owning department” to make the first line break at a low point on each pressurized loop and release all pressure.
  • After all pressure is released, drain and flush each pipe, as required. (Flushing is not always required to make the system safe.) Verify with the MSDS sheet.
  • As work begins on the pipe system treat each pipe as if it still pressurized and contains a hazardous material. It is critical to wear all appropriate PPE based on the MSDS and potential system pressures.

Piping Systems are a part of our daily lives. They help us live and work more efficiently. People typically do not pay attention to the various piping systems around them, nor do they realize the potential hazards when disturbing them. Paying attention and creating a plan for breaking into functioning piping systems helps protect the lives of ourselves, our employees, and our coworkers.

Heat Illness: symptoms and when to seek medical attention

It’s certainly been hot in the South the last few weeks. One of the things we stress around this time of year is staying healthy in the summer heat. This week’s safety topic is heat illness. Below is information on avoiding heat stress and recognizing symptoms of heat illness.

Preventing heat illness:
1. If you can’t avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, rest frequently in a cool spot and drink fluids. When possible, schedule exercise or labor for cooler parts of the day. Also, limiting time spent in heat until you’re conditioned to it. It can take several weeks for your body to get acclimated.
2. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. This will help replace the fluid you are losing body sweat. Sweating helps your body maintain a normal body temperature in the heat.
3. Make sure your clothing is light weight and fits loosely. Wearing excess clothing or clothing that fits tightly won’t allow your body to cool properly.
4. Apply sunscreen often and liberally, because sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself. When possible, add protection with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

  Listen to your body, try to pay attention and notice when you feel overheated, weak, or irritable. These are subtle indicators that you need a break. Other, more severe symptoms of heat illness to watch for are dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps.

Use extra caution when taking medications or have a condition that increases your risk of heat-related problems. Talk to employers, coworkers, family, and friends about your medications or conditions so they can help watch for signs of heat stress.

Also, keep an eye on those around you for symptoms of heat illness. If caught early, heat stress can often be treated at home or work with rest in a cool spot and drinking fluids.

Seek medical assistance for the following symptoms:
1. Nausea or vomiting that prevents rehydration. IV fluids may be necessary.
2. Severe muscle cramps that cannot be relieved with re-hydration and stretching.

Seek EMERGENCY medical attention (Call 911!) if an individual shows any of the following symptoms:
1. Stops sweating
2. Becomes confused
3. Has a seizure or heat stroke.

 These are indicators of life threatening conditions. After you call 911, carry the individual to a cool place, remove their clothing and attempt to cool their body with a combination of cold compresses, or spraying/sponging the body with cool water and fans or circulating air.

 Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion could save your life or the life of someone you care about. Share this information and talk about heat illness so that we can keep each other safe all summer.

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