Understand the other words that mean ‘bomb’ in the workplace

Safe storage of gas cylinders in workplaces is vital for the safety of people and processes – because, if mistreated, compressed gas contains enough energy to tear open a steel cylinder as easily as if it were made of aluminium foil. And the problems get worse when flammable gases are involved…

We all know what a bomb looks like in cartoons, don’t we? – A black sphere with a burning fuse sticking out of it. To remove any doubt the word ‘bomb’ is usually written on it in bold capital letters.

But the giveaway word isn’t forced to be ‘bomb’, any more than the tell-tale shape is always that distinctive black sphere. In real life the bomb could just as easily be a cylinder of blue, red, black, or a number of other colours, and the giveaway word could be ‘propane’, ‘butane’…or simply ‘gas’.

And that’s our point in Gas Safety Week, which this year runs for the week of September 14-20. Its main function is to highlight the need for safety around gas and gas appliances, but we’d say it’s also important to think about gas bottle storage relating to portable gases, relied on so heavily for domestic and leisure purposes.

Gas bottles are latent bombs because of the pressure of the gas within. So great is the force that it can tear the steel walls like paper. The devastation that can be caused by one exploding, even without an associated fire, can be seen here in a video (though we offer no comment on the manual handling or securing of the cylinders involved.)

As always in workplace safety, the first thing to get right is mind set; the understanding of the risks involved, and the appropriate behaviour required as a result. Gas bottles should be treated as if they were unexploded bombs, because careless handling of them can have the same effect, as video compilations on the internet prove all too clearly.

So how should gas bottles be stored?

Bomb• Always upright – in storage, in transit, and in use
• In well ventilated areas – preferably outdoors and away from doors, windows and drains. This is because flammable gas like butane and propane are heavier than air, and will flow and pool at ground level
• Away from heat or ignition sources – heat makes the gas expand, increasing pressure inside the bottle
• Controlled in gas bottle cages or purpose-designed gas cylinder cabinets (the latter are fire resistant, offering up to 90 minutes’ protection)
• The right distance from boundaries and buildings
• Fit plastic caps on stored cylinders, even when they are empty
• With a regularly-serviced 9kg dry powder fire extinguisher in the area

Things to avoid in compressed gas cylinder storage

• Never store or use them below ground – remember that gas is heavier than air
• Don’t keep them where gas is prohibited
• Don’t store them near anything that could corrode the bottle, making it weaker
• If no alternative to inside storage is available, the maximum weight of LPG cylinders that may be stored in a shop of office is 70kg, but this is reduced to 15kg where residential property is involved.

Gas cylinder cabinets are made of durable and protected steel, whilst lockable gas cylinder storage cages are made from galvanised and welded mesh, offering long life and performance in all kinds of weather.

In thinking about the weather, it is also important to remember that although the right place for storage of compressed gas cylinders is outdoors, even dampness in the atmosphere has a corrosive effect over time. Paint finishes can be damaged when cylinders are removed, allowing corrosion to set in on the steel beneath.

If a gas bottle has been kept outside for a long time, even appropriate storage won’t protect it from that – but it’s worth asking if you actually need the cylinder and the gas it contains. If the answer is ‘no’, then the best course of action would be to remove it completely.

For more information about the safe storage of gas cylinders visit our advice page on “Compressed gas cylinder safety”.