Compressed Gas Storage Areas
Many commercial, industrial, production, and mixed-use buildings have an area where compressed gases are stored or used. These may be as simple as carbon dioxide gas tanks for beverage dispensing or the storage of flammable welding gases or propane. Specialty areas in hospitals and medical facilities may store oxygen or anesthesia gases, and labs may use liquid or gaseous nitrogen for freezing and preservation. Often times, production facilities and tire shops will use nitrogen or argon gases for filling packaging or tires with a totally dry or oxygen free environment to preserve the product or prevent corrosion.
While most people are familiar with hazards from combustible gases such as propane, acetylene, and natural gas the hazards from oxygen and oxygen-depleting gases are often overlooked. When gases like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or argon leak from a compressed tank the oxygen in the room can become quite quickly displaced. When the concentration of oxygen decreases even slightly by a little more than 1 percent to 2 percent, people immediately begin to feel the effects. Healthy individuals are unable to work strenuously and their coordination may be affected in oxygen environments of 15 percent to 19 percent. When oxygen gases leak into an enclosed area it can make all materials more combustible, which is it’s own hazard.
Relevant Code Citations:
2015 International Fire Code:
5303.16.10 Monitoring and detection. Vaults shall be provided with approved vapor and liquid detection systems and equipped with on-site audible and visual warning devices with battery backup. Vapor detection systems shall sound an alarm when the system detects vapors that reach or exceed 25 percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL) or one-half the immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) concentration for the gas in the vault.