TJC Storage of freestanding medical gas cylinders

Storage of freestanding medical gas cylinders: compliance and safety tips

This article provides compliance and safety tips for freestanding medical gas cylinders. The last issue of Joint Commission Online covered piped medical gas systems. It may be impractical for some organizations to have piped nonflammable medical gases, so they may provide these gases in freestanding cylinders of various sizes. All freestanding cylinders must be stored in a rack, a cart, or another enclosure to protect them. Unsecured cylinders could fall, breaking the valve and possibly resulting in a rapid release of the gas, propelling the cylinder and turning it into a dangerous projectile.

These tips are applicable to ambulatory care, critical access hospital, hospital, long term care, and Medicare/Medicaid certification-based long term care organizations.

  • Storing cylinders in the means of egress: NFPA 99-1999 does not specify how many cylinders can be stored in the means of egress. However, NFPA 99-2005 allows up to 300 cubic feet (cu. ft.) of oxygen in containers per smoke compartment to be in the means of egress without being stored in a cabinet or room (out in the open). This means, for example, that up to 12 size E cylinders (which contain approximately 24.96 cu. ft. of oxygen) can be in an alcove in a means of egress without being protected in a cabinet or room. Limiting the amount of gas open to the means of egress to 300 cu. ft. allows the building air-handling equipment to stabilize the environment. If the volume of gases exceeds the allowable limits, it might create an oxygen-enriched area, which could be a hazard. The volume calculation does not include opened or used cylinders (as they no longer emit gas once opened), nor does it include cylinders currently in use.Here are two examples of acceptable storage in the means of egress: an operating suite is lined with 15 gurneys, each with an E cylinder attached; a rack of 12 E cylinders sits in an alcove open to the same corridor. This totals 15 cylinders in use (which are not used in volume calculation) and 12 cylinders in storage. According to NFPA 99-1999 4-3.1.1.2(c), the organization is allowed up to 3,000 cu. ft. (which equates to 120 E cylinders) in a protected environment per smoke compartment (for example, a clean utility room). Another acceptable example is a clean utility room with two racks holding 12 full E cylinders and a third rack with 12 empty or partially full cylinders. In an alcove outside the room, another storage rack holds 12 E cylinders. This totals 36 E cylinders in the smoke compartment, with 12 stored in a means of egress.
  • Storing cylinders: Full cylinders in racks must be segregated from those that have been opened or used, per NFPA 99-1999 4-3.5.2.2.(b)(2). This eliminates confusion for health care personnel; if empty and full cylinders are not clearly separated, staff might accidentally retrieve a partially full or empty cylinder rather than a full one.
  • Bulk storage: NFPA 99-1999 has very specific requirements for storage of nonflammable medical gases exceeding 3,000 cu. ft. (up to 20,000 cu. ft.), including providing 1-hour fire-rated room construction, ventilation, and explosion-proof electrical fixtures (such as motors and lights). Cylinders stored outdoors should be protected from direct exposure to the sun (the tank surface temperature must never exceed 130°F). In addition, tanks exposed to freezing temperatures should be handled with care.

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