Not only is a lack of oxygen in the air dangerous, an increased concentration of oxygen is also a hazard. Oxygen enriched environments create a higher risk of fire and can allow them to be started very easily.
As human senses cannot detect any signs of oxygen enrichment there is no warning, unless suitable gas detection equipment is used. Normal ambient air contains approximately 21% oxygen and even a few percent over this can create a hazard.
Causes of Oxygen Enrichment
The increase of oxygen concentration in the air can be caused by things like leaks. This may be leaks from poorly maintained equipment or poor connections. Incorrect use of oxygen, or an excess of oxygen, in an application or equipment is another cause. To help this, work should be carried out in a well-ventilated area.
Oxygen is commonly used incorrectly in things like inflating tyres, when replacing air or inert gas, during the pressurising and purging of systems, when dusting benches, clothing or machinery and when attempting to cool or create fresh air in a confined space.
Dangers of Oxygen Enrichment
Oxygen enrichment can affect both gases and materials. Materials include worker’s clothing which can be enriched and may spontaneously combust. The higher the oxygen concentration, the fiercer and quicker the fire. This is the cause of several work accidents every year, resulting in serious burns and in worst cases even death.