When it comes to safety, following official advice on the use of welding and fuel gases is extremely important. But what happens when that advice changes, but custom and practice doesn’t keep pace?
In 2003, the UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) issued guidance requiring any acetylene gas cylinder involved in a fire to be cooled for no less than 24 hours afterwards. This led to prolonged closures for businesses, roads and railway lines if an incident were to occur.
Not surprisingly, welding businesses turned to alternative solutions to avoid this disruption, even though acetylene would be the most effective gas in some circumstances.
Government rethink on guidance
Fast forward nine years and following extensive research in the UK and Germany, the Government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser issued a re-think in 2012, reducing the cooling-off period for acetylene cylinders after fires from 24 hours to just two. Since then fire and rescue services in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa have followed suit, with Germany, France and Austria also considering doing so.
Apparently the previous, more cautious, advice had been based on a misinterpretation of an unconnected trial. (Click here to read more about the revised guidance.)
Still, better safe than sorry, you’d suppose. At least we can get back to using acetylene whenever it’s the optimum choice.
Officially safe – but the myth persists
So why haven’t we? It’s several years since the new guidance yet the perception about safety still lingers, even though extensive research funded by, among others, the British Compressed Gases Association has shown that acetylene is safe to use when handled, stored and transported correctly. (Click here to read an extensive guidance on safety procedures to minimise your exposure to potential risks. )
We’ve seen that acetylene cylinders are no more disruptive than any other gas cylinders involved in a fire, which means acetylene users should also no longer face difficulty in getting insurance cover.
In addition, acetylene is lighter than air and so doesn’t accumulate at low levels and is the only fuel gas recommended for use underground.
Missing out on the benefits of acetylene
And if you need more reasons to reconsider acetylene:
- it produces a flame temperature of approx. 3150°C the hottest of any fuel gas
- it’s the only fuel gas that can weld steel
- when cutting, it provides the fastest preheating and piercing times of any fuel gas combination