Skip to Content

Compressed Gases

Compressed gases in the laboratory present chemical and physical hazards. If compressed gases are accidentally released, they may cause the following:

  • Depleted oxygen atmosphere
  • Fire
  • Adverse health effects

Cylinders that are knocked over or dropped can be very dangerous and can cause serious injuries. If a valve is knocked off a compressed gas cylinder, the cylinder can become a lethal projectile. Because disposal of compressed gas cylinders is difficult and expensive, be sure to arrange a return agreement with suppliers prior to purchase.

Cylinders can travel through walls much like a torpedo travels through water. They can cause structural damage, severe injury, and death.

Follow these guidelines to ensure safe storage of gas cylinders:

  • Secure all cylinders in racks, holders, or clamping devices. Fasten cylinders individually (not ganged) in a well-ventilated area.
  • Do not rely on color to identify container contents. Check the label.
  • Close valves, and release pressure on the regulators when cylinders are not in use.
  • Minimize the number of hazardous gas cylinders in a laboratory. Do not exceed the following:
    • Three 10" x 50" flammable gas and/or oxygen cylinders, and
    • Two 9" x 30" liquefied flammable gas cylinders, and
    • Three 4" x 15" cylinders of severely toxic gases (e.g., arsine, chlorine, diborane, fluorine, hydrogen cyanide, methyl bromide, nitric oxide, phosgene).
  • Keep heat, sparks, flames, and electrical circuits away from gas cylinders.
  • Store cylinders of flammable and oxidizing agents at least 20 feet apart, or separate these items with a fire wall.
  • Do not store gas cylinders in hallways or public areas.

When working with compressed gas cylinders, remember the following:

  • Never move a gas cylinder unless the cylinder cap is in place and the cylinder is chained or otherwise secured to a cart.
  • Do not move a cylinder by rolling it on its base.
  • Only use regulators approved for the type of gas in the cylinder.
  • Do not use adapters to interchange regulators.
  • When opening a cylinder valve, follow these guidelines:
    • Direct the cylinder opening away from people.
    • Open the valve slowly.
  • If a cylinder leaks, carefully move the cylinder to an open space outdoors. Have the supplier pick up the cylinder.
  • Do not use oil or other lubricant on valves and fittings.
  • Do not use oxygen as a substitute for compressed air.
  • Do not lift cylinders by the cap.
  • Do not tamper with the safety devices on a cylinder. Have the manufacturer or supplier handle cylinder repairs.
  • Do not change a cylinder's label or color. Do not refill cylinders yourself.
  • Do not heat cylinders to raise internal pressure.
  • Do not use compressed gas to clean your skin or clothing.
  • Do not completely empty cylinders. Maintain at least 30 psi.
  • Do not use copper (>65% copper) connectors or tubing with acetylene. Acetylene can form explosive compounds with silver, copper, and mercury.
  • Always wear impact resistant glasses or goggles when working with compressed gases.

May 2011
Reviewed November 2014