Gas and the workplace
The word ‘gas’ can be used to describe the physical state of many substances. While a number of gases have very specific safety requirements, this guidance relates to the use of gas as a fuel within the workplace.
Gas is commonly used in the workplace for heating the work environment and water supplies, cooking and for processing products.
The gas itself can come from a number of sources including natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and methane. The risks of explosion, poisoning, etc. are similar for all.
Gas can be supplied either piped into the premises from the mains supply or a storage tank, or in small cylinders used close to the appliance with a flexible hose connection.
The risks of using gas
When gas does not burn properly, or is used in an area without adequate ventilation, it produces excess carbon monoxide (CO) – a colourless, odourless gas. This can happen regardless of the type of gas being burned, whether from bottles or from a mains supply.
When inhaled, carbon monoxide binds with the haemoglobin in the blood. This reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, starving the body of oxygen and poisoning it.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include tiredness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea and chest and stomach pains.
In extreme cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can kill within a matter of hours.
There is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- if there is inadequate ventilation in the room where the appliance is located
- if the flue or chimney is blocked and cannot vent the system properly
- if the appliance has not been regularly maintained by a competent person
- if you use an inexperienced engineer not registered with the Gas safe registered engineers.
Gas safe registered engineers
The Gas Safe Register replaced the Council of Registered Gas Installers as the UK body that certifies gas engineers as being competent to install and maintain gas systems and appliances.
Registration is a legal requirement for anyone installing or repairing domestic gas fittings or appliances.
Different types of appliances need different knowledge. Make sure that the engineer is qualified to work on the correct type of equipment (see the back of their registration card). For example, some engineers servicing gas-fired heating systems may not be qualified to service gas catering equipment.
Always ask to see the engineer’s registration card. The card contains a photograph of the employee, their trading title, their registration number and the expiry date of the card.
The back of the card gives details of the types of gas work that they can carry out. If necessary, the Gas Safe Register can provide evidence of registration and confirmation that any certificate of registration is valid. The Gas Safe Register website lists registered installers across the UK, their contact details and areas of expertise.
Basic gas safety
To help reduce the risks presented by use of gas in the workplace:
- have new gas equipment supplied and fitted by a Gas safe registered engineers
- have all gas appliances serviced regularly by a Gas Safe Register engineer, in line with the manufacturers’ instructions
- keep the areas around external flue outlets clear of vegetation, etc. to make sure that combustion gases can be effectively removed
- ensure there is an adequate airflow around gas appliances.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) safety
LPG can refer to commercial propane or butane. LPG Autogas (LPGA) is a mixture of these two gases used as a vehicle fuel.
Additional precautions are required when using LPG:
- ensure adequate ventilation is available in the area where the gas is being stored and used, particularly at low level, since LPG is heavier than air
- have LPG appliances maintained by an engineer qualified to examine such equipment
- for mobile vehicles, make sure that the gas canister is secured and cannot be tampered with by vandals, etc.
- try to store as few gas cylinders as possible, arranging for more frequent deliveries where necessary, since storage facilities must meet certain safety standards
- make sure that gas storage facilities meet the standards laid down in The LPG Association Guidance (see further information).
When storing LPG, the LPG Association stipulates that:
- the storage area is secured against attack from vandals, etc.
- warning signage is in place to show the hazards associated with LPG
- cylinders are stored in an upright position (unless their labelling indicates that they can be stored otherwise)
- there is clear access to all cylinders
- fire fighting facilities are available
- the store and its surroundings are kept free of flammable sources and combustible materials including vegetation
- the storage area is located away from open drains.
(Code of Practice 7 – Storage of Full and Empty LPG Cylinders and Cartridges, The Liquid Petroleum Gas Association, 2004)
Gas suppliers can often provide guidance on this subject.
Installation and maintenance records for gas work
Detailed records should be kept of any maintenance work carried out on gas pipe work, appliances and/or flues.
Engineers will issue certificates for any work they carry out.
If the terms of the business premises’ lease state that the landlord is responsible for maintaining the gas system, ask to see copies of the maintenance records to make sure that they have been carried out properly and that any necessary repairs have been made.
Carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless and invisible gas that can kill within hours if inhaled. It is produced when methane, propane, LPG and other gases burn incompletely because of poor appliance maintenance or lack of ventilation.
For extra safety, install a carbon monoxide detector and alarm system anywhere gas is burned.
Make sure that the alarm meets safety standards BS 7860 or BS EN 50291, has a Kite mark and is sited in line with the manufacturer’s guidance.
Make sure the detector is tested regularly.
CO detectors are safety devices and are not a substitute for basic safety precautions and regular maintenance by a Corgi registered engineer.
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