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Firefighters ‘Proactive’ In Preventing Gas Danger

January 11, 2010

Bristol’s firefighters say they are doing enough to educate firms and prevent gas cylinder explosions like the one in St Philip’s.

A cylinder of the compressed gas — used in welding — exploded at the BOC plant in St Philip’s on Thursday afternoon, and a large area currently remains cordoned off.

But Avon Fire and Rescue claim the gas is safe if stored correctly, and that they are educating firms about its dangers.

They also say it is too early to say exactly what caused the explosion and whether the correct safety procedures were followed.

London Acetylene Safety Leaflet

Acetylene is a popular choice for welding because, when mixed with oxygen, it burns at a very high temperature. This means it can be used to weld a higher number of metals than some other gases. It has been used for over 100 years.

However, firefighters say acetylene is at particular risk of exploding because it can ‘self-heat’ without a flame, for example if knocked.

When an incident occurs, safety regulations demand an area 200 metres around it be cordoned off. There have been calls for the gas to be banned in the past, and it is a regular concern in fires.

In the current Bristol incident, this meant a railway line, commuter routes along Whitby Rd and Feeder Rd and business parks such as Avon Meads being closed over the last four days. An incident involving acetylene occurred at the same BOC depot in St Philip’s in 2006.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has run a huge acetylene education programme over the past three years, which has succeeded in reducing the number of incidents in the capital.

One leaflet produced in London even suggests firms reconsider their use of acetylene and switch to other gases.

There is no similar programme in the Avon area, but city firefighters are adamant they are doing enough to minimise the risks.

Station manager Rob Davis told Jones The News: “London have taken the lead on acetylene safety but we have been involved with them.

“We’ve been actively involved in the national arena as part of the Chief Fire Officers Association. Acetylene is high on our priority list and we have been proactive to increase awareness of safety issues around acetylene.

“We provide advice across the spectrum, including to businesses. We do suggest that anything that makes the workplace safer is a better choice.

“Acetylene is safe – it is a safe gas if used in the correct hands. But that’s true of a lot of things. A lot of things that are used in industry are potentially dangerous, but safe if used in a safe way.”

The umbrella organisation for the compressed gas industry, the BCGA, also insists acetylene is safe.

BCGA Chief Executive Doug Thornton said: “Acetylene cylinders are perfectly safe unless they are exposed to a raging fire. In 70% of the incidents involving acetylene, the cylinder itself is not the cause of the fire, but is the innocent bystander that gets involved in a fire that relates to something else.

“There are other methods of welding and other gas alternatives, but nothing can really replace acetylene. It can weld metals that others can’t. If you want to weld metals you need oxy-acetylene.”

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