When dealing with high pressure gases, cylinder technicians need to be aware of the numerous hazards: Corrosion, falling cylinders dislodging valves, burst discs rupturing and decibel levels of escaping gases. The technician, or anyone handling a high-pressure cylinder, needs to be aware of the cylinder and its surroundings during use. In one such case, a hospital nurse, opening an oxygen cylinder in a children’s ward, scared the patients to the extent that they were breaking windows and crawling through glass to get out of the building.
In 2017, in a hospital in India, a children’s ward was treating patients for illnesses such as dengue fever. A nurse’s aide opened a bottle of oxygen, likely without ensuring the valve was properly connected. The ensuing high decibel sound scared the patients into thinking a cylinder had or was exploding. Some staff and patients panicked and tried to rush out of the ward. They could not escape because of obstructed doorways. Witnesses started breaking windows, and the patients crawled out through the broken glass to escape the children’s ward. Five patients were later re-admitted due to injuries sustained during the panic.
Incidents involving cylinders at the hospital had occurred in the past, generally caused by untrained staff. In this instance the staff member was supposedly trained, but it was unusual to use a bottle of oxygen, as the hospital is equipped with an internal oxygen administration system. A Doctor was quoted as saying, "The compressed gas produced a loud sound when a trained female nurse’s assistant opened the oxygen cylinders which are used for emergencies. Usually, the oxygen is supplied through a centralized-system in the ward.”
It is not surprising that the sound of escaping gas scared the patients. The decibel level of gas escaping from a cylinder valve has been registered around 127 decibels. (Read our BLOG on Dangerous Decibels.) That is the equivalent of a jet engine during take-off. That sound, within a building, would have the potential to scare any unsuspecting person; and in this case, caused a full panic.
All cylinder technicians, as well as anyone handling or using a cylinder, cannot take cylinder safety for granted. This is very important when using the cylinder around clients, customers or patients.
- If attaching a regulator, check for proper fit and intact sealing surfaces.
- Make certain others are not in line with any valve openings (BLOG – Injection injuries).
- Secure and cap any unused/unattended cylinders.
- If you must attach a regulator, think about conducting that operation in a separate room, away from others.
Cylinders and valves are normally safe. However, minor accidents around untrained persons can become a panic situation. Prevent panic by safely handling cylinders.