Compressed gas cylinders can be extremely hazardous, not only because of the contents of the cylinders, but because of the pressure of the gases within the cylinders, so there is a dual concern. When a cylinder is compromised, there’s worry about how the container itself may behave, but also about the potential from harm from whatever chemical is stored inside.
Cylinders are relatively heavy and usually full of dangerous gas that’s under a lot of pressure—working with compressed gas cylinders means having an awareness of an inherently dangerous situation, and understanding the complexities to mitigate for. The most recognizable, feared scenario involving compressed gas tanks involves the rapid loss of pressurization that may turn a vessel into a missile-like device with ballistic properties, occurring when the cylinder has ruptured in some fashion. That’s why the federal Office of Compliance once referred to pressurized cylinders as “the loaded weapon in your workplace.”
In order to recognize the hazards posed by compressed gas cylinders, you must first be able to recognize the specific parts of the cylinder and have a general knowledge of how these things work. Compressed gas cylinders can pose the hazard of an explosion when the metal pressure vessel fails. A common factor in that scenario is the misuse or abuse of the cylinder or valve while it is under pressure. Another hazard is the sudden release of pressure from the cylinder, as mentioned above.
Compressed gas cylinders may contain many types of gases. Some of the more common gases used in pressure cylinders include those that are combustible, flammable and/or explosive, poisonous, or that are corrosive, reactive, or inert. Compressed gas cylinders could also contain gases that share a combination of some of these characteristics. It is important to know what is inside, so accurate labeling, marking, and dating are each critical precautions for safety.