You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out: Handle Specialty Gases with Care

Image of compressed specialty gases being safely transported
Editorial Staff | September 18, 2017

For someone who uses a chainsaw every day, it may not seem like a big deal to be handling this highly dangerous piece of equipment. Same goes for specialty gases.

If procurement and distribution of gases is a common part of your business operation, it is easy to forget the safety considerations that go along with compressed specialty gases. However, no matter how experienced you are, you can never be too careful when it comes to safety and safe handling procedures.

Compressed specialty gases are capable of creating environments that are explosive, reactive, flammable, oxidizing, oxygen deficient, exceptionally cold, corrosive or otherwise extremely hazardous to your health.

When working with compressed gases, there are several safety handling tips and procedures that should always be kept in mind:

ALWAYS familiarize yourself with the weight of the specialty gases you have on site—especially those that are flammable. By understanding whether the gas is heavier or lighter than air, you can determine where to place monitoring equipment as well as how a leak might travel to an ignition source.

ALWAYS wear safety glasses with side shields when handling or working around compressed specialty gases.

ALWAYS wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job, such as gloves and safety shoes.

ALWAYS return cylinders to your supplier with approximately 25 pounds per square inch of pressure remaining. By following this rule you will help prevent cylinder contamination. If you believe a cylinder has become contaminated, tell your gas supplier.

ALWAYS move cylinders by using a cylinder cart designed specifically for the type of cylinder you are moving.

ALWAYS ensure cylinders are secured from tipping by using chains, straps or another system designed for the purpose of securing cylinders.

ALWAYS securely apply protective valve caps on cylinders when idle or in transport, as an uncontrolled release of gas under pressure can be very dangerous. Many cylinders contain pressures in excess of 2,000 pounds per square inch or more. Therefore, a broken valve resulting from a falling cylinder is all it takes for the cylinder to become a missile.

ALWAYS keep a fire extinguisher available where compressed gases are stored. While a fire extinguisher can rarely fully extinguish a flammable gas fire, it is important to have someone qualified to use the fire extinguisher at your job site at all times. Make sure this person is prepared to use the fire extinguisher in case of emergency, to help slow the progression of the fire so workers can leave the job site safely. Know your emergency and evacuation plan in case a fire occurs.

ALWAYS segregate full cylinders from empty cylinders. Keeping cylinders separate means you’ll always know how many full cylinders you have and won’t risk your process by putting on an empty cylinder.

ALWAYS ensure you have properly verified the contents of each compressed gas cylinder by reading its label prior to placing it in service. Read the label, know the gas properties and review the safety data sheets (SDS).

ALWAYS check your equipment for possible leaks. Immediately remove any leaking equipment from service. Remember: Even small leaks can cause big problems.

ALWAYS use specified and calibrated gas monitors as directed by your safety representative. When you use the specified monitors and make sure they are properly calibrated, your workplace risk is minimized.


NEVER store cylinders where they can come in contact with objects at extreme temperatures, like near a furnace or cryogenic (extremely cold) liquid. Extreme temperatures can weaken containers or cause a gas release.

NEVER store cylinders where they can come in contact with corrosive materials. Corrosive materials can attack the cylinders and cause them to fail.

NEVER store cylinders where water is freestanding or may collect. Water may cause advanced corrosion of the cylinder shell. Submerged compressed gas cylinders can cause an explosion risk if they become contaminated with hydrocarbons.

NEVER store cylinders where they can become part of an electrical circuit. Store cylinders away from electrical switches, outlets and extension cords.

NEVER store cylinders containing a flammable or oxidizing gas—such as oxygen—near each other or near an ignition source, such as an open flame, furnace, water heater or sparking device.

NEVER store a flammable liquefied compressed gas­­­—such as propane—on its side unless the cylinder is designed to be used on its side. Where allowed, make sure to follow additional safety precautions as needed.

NEVER transfer gas from one cylinder to another. Gas transfer activities require special training and qualifications.

NEVER attempt to adapt or modify valve components on cylinders or gas apparatus. Fittings are assigned to specific gases to help prevent misuse of the gas.

NEVER conceal damage, contamination, arc burns or attempted repairs to a cylinder.

NEVER weld on or attach anything to a cylinder.

NEVER use cylinders as a support, doorstop or a coat rack.

NEVER lift cylinders by the protective valve cap or by use of a magnet.

NEVER attempt to repair cylinders, their valves or valve components. Repairs require special training and equipment, and should only be performed by authorized service personnel.

NEVER move cylinders by rolling them on their side.

NEVER remove, alter or cover cylinder labeling or markings.

NEVER lubricate or use pipe dope on cylinder valves or fittings. Valves and fittings are designed to operate without lubrication. If the valve is hard to operate, it needs repair and should be returned to your supplier with clear instructions about the problem.

NEVER handle any part of a cylinder (including valve, valve component or gas apparatus) with oily hands or oily gloves. Contamination of cylinder surfaces with oil, grease or any type of hydrocarbon material is dangerous.

NEVER allow cylinders to be stored or transported where contamination may get in or on the surface of the cylinders.

NEVER breathe gas from a cylinder unless it has been authorized and provided for that reason. Specialty gases should only be provided by authorized and trained personnel. Gases should only be breathed from a cylinder by the use of a proper pressure-reducing device, such as a gas regulator with associated gas delivery equipment.

Use these guidelines for safe handling of compressed gases, but they should not replace proper education and training for anyone who utilizes or transports compressed gas cylinders. Ensure that safety is as important to your partners as it is to you and your business. Together with your supplier, review the properties, procedures, uses and safety precautions before using any gas. Ask for the safety data sheets for each of the supplied specialty gases and if you are unfamiliar with the hazards associated with a particular gas, ask your supplier for additional materials.

Search our database of safety data sheets for more exhaustive safety information on specific gases.

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Bill Baker is the Vice President of Food, Beverage and Retail Markets at Airgas. With over 30 years working in these markets, Bill has a deep understanding of relevant gas applications, emerging trends and the technologies his customers need to be successful.