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Environmental Health & Safety


Risk Evaluation and Corrective Actions

This document is intended to inform personnel of the hazards of enriched atmospheres of oxygen and the actions to take should an oxygen leak be detected.  This document does not address the therapeutic use of oxygen.

Many patients may need oxygen therapy while being treated at SMH.  Oxygen may be administered for several hours or may last for the duration of a patient’s stay.  Normally, the oxygen is administered by having oxygen flow through thin tubes that end just inside the patient’s nose.  The oxygen supply may be from small metal cylinders or through the fixed building system.  Some patients may come to SMH with their own cryogenic oxygen system. The small cylinders as well as cryogenic oxygen systems normally lasts a few hours.  During use, the surplus oxygen and the exhaled air from the patient are released into the room.  Because patient care rooms have good general ventilation, the oxygen that is released is quickly removed from the room.  Therefore, an oxygen build up does not occur during this type of normal use.

The Hazard Potential for Oxygen

Pure oxygen does not burn itself but makes fires burn faster and hotter.  To prevent an enhanced fire situation, any location where oxygen is stored or used must be relatively free of flammable and combustible items.  Examples of these materials include alcohols, solvents, petroleum products, and papers.  Open flames, sparks, or high heat from smoking items, radiant heaters, and certain appliances must be controlled. The highest safe temperature for the oxygen tank and accessories is 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Oxygen Leaks and Corrective Actions

The quantity of oxygen that might leak from a system may range from extremely low up to an emergency situation.  Leaks usually occur from the oxygen supply tubes used. A higher hazard is the loss of cryogenic oxygen from a patient's system. The relative hazard rating and the appropriate action at SMH is:

  1. Non-detectable leaks:

    This type of leak is normally not detectable (no hissing sound).  These leaks may be the result of a failure in the O-ring or other compontent for a "building system" or a leak from the oxygen supply line from a patient cylinder.  The quantity of oxygen released into the room is inconsequential.  The general ventilation will adequately remove the excessive oxygen to prevent an enriched atmosphere of oxygen. Should there be a minor leak from a wall-mounted system, the problem can be easily repaird as a routine maintenance activity.  MC Facilities can repair these leaks immediately after they are detected and reported.

  2. Slow leak (detectable by sound):

    Slow leaks are detectable by sound.  The quantity of oxygen released into the room may range up to that which may be normally used for a patient or more.  This quantity of oxygen being released poses minimal hazard to the patient or staff.  However, immediate action is needed.  When detected, personnel need to call the MC Facilities Dispatch at x3-4567.  Responding Facilities personnel may require the system be shut down.  Prior to taking this action, Respiratory Care will be notified so those patients requiring oxygen can be switched to bottled oxygen.

  3. Catastrophic leakage (broken valve or coupling):

    The wall-mounted oxygen systems at SMH help to prevent the catastrophic release of oxygen in patient care locations.  Should massive quantities of oxygen be released, the enriched atmosphere of oxygen can greatly enhance a fire.  Should this event occur, medical staff need to call Security at x13 and declare a Utility Emergency.  Security will dispatch MC Facilities and Respiratory Care so immediate action can be taken and patient care is not compromised.

  4. Should a patient's personal cryogenic supply spill occur, the oxygen can react with floor materials resulting in a fire or explosive hazard for the immediate area. Personnel need to evacuate the area until all the cryogenic materials vaporize and the building system exhausts the surplus oxygen in the air.

Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 7/26/2011. Disclaimer.