This month's column discusses the safe storage and use of calibration, carrier, and detector gas cylinders for small or large organizations.
Carrier and detector gases, when not generated directly on-site, are transported to laboratory facilities in gas cylinders and stored there until they are used. A recent "GC Connections" installment (1) explored the sources, both natural and synthetic, of carrier and detector gases for gas chromatography (GC). When put into service, secured gas cylinders or laboratory generators are connected to pressure- and flow-regulating devices that establish appropriate flow and pressure conditions for delivery to one or more gas chromatographs. The delivery system may be a simple length of tubing or it may be a more complex manifolded arrangement with intermediate regulation and valving. Ideally, the gas stream passes through a final purification stage positioned close to each chromatograph.
Much of the equipment associated with gas supplies in the laboratory ensures the purity and control of carrier and detector gases; the rest provides necessary safety measures for day-to-day encounters with flammable or asphyxiant gases that come in heavy high-pressure containers. Both the correct equipment and the procedures associated with gas deployment are critical for achieving the safest work environment and the best possible results.In the United States, both the federal and state government authorities promulgate regulations and guidelines for the safe handling and use of gases according to their delivery system and chemical nature. In 29 CFR 1910.101, the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) incorporates standards issued by the Compressed Gas Association (CGA) (2). Several organizations have made their policies and procedures for compressed gas handling available on-line; among these, the State University of New York (SUNY) campus at Stony Brook Compressed Gas Safety Guide (3) is one that is easily accessible and useful for typical chromatography laboratory scenarios.
Industrial gas consumers — including both companies and their employees — are responsible for the safe storage and use of gas cylinders and their contents from the moment the tanks come off a delivery truck until the gas supplier collects the empties for return. During this period of responsibility, certain procedures and equipment are used to mitigate the hazards and get the best use out of the cylinders' contents. In addition, companies should enact specific training programs to qualify employees to handle compressed gases safely and effectively. The contents of this article are intended as general professional advice and are not meant to reduce or replace any requirements, procedures, or regulations imposed by companies or their local authorities.