The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Information on safe use of Oxygen

Graham Marshall - Sunday, February 10, 2013

The air we breathe contains about 21 per cent oxygen.

But even a very small increase in the oxygen level in the air -  to just 24 per cent - can create a dangerous situation.

At 24 per cent concentration of oxygen in air, it becomes easier to start a fire, which will then burn hotter and more fiercely than in normal air.

Under such circumstance, it may be almost impossible to put the fire out.

Oxygen is also a hazard because it is very reactive.

Pure oxygen, at high pressure - such as from a cylinder - can react violently with common materials, such as oil and grease. Other materials may catch fire spontaneously.

Nearly all materials, including textiles, rubber and even metals, will burn vigorously in oxygen.

A leaking valve or hose in a poorly ventilated room or confined space can quickly increase the oxygen concentration to a dangerous level.

In response to the hazard posed by excess levels of oxygen, the UK Health and Safety Executive (UK HSE) have developed a new guidance leaflet for use by anyone who uses oxygen gas in cylinders, in the workplace.

For a copy of the new leaflet, simply click here.

The leaflet describes the hazards from using oxygen and the precautions needed when using oxygen equipment.

If you are an employer, it provides information which will assist you in your risk assessment.

And remember, all employers are legally required to assess the risks in the workplace, and take all reasonably practicable precautions to ensure the safety of workers and members of the public.

This may include a careful examination of the risks from using oxygen in your risk assessment.

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