How Long Will We Be Lucky?

Fire departments and dive businesses have been lucky.  When will that luck change?

How many lives or businesses must be destroyed before those who have the power or influence to effect change cause changes to occur:  Changes can stop the senseless explosive rupture of the cylinders we use to pursue public safety and sport.

The dive industry has several times been lucky. An air storage vessel exploded, taking one life and causing great property damage.  The toll of death and injury most likely would have been great had the surplus air receiver exploded among the many divers who gather on each summer weekend at that diving site instead of on a quiet Thursday.  Only one family must grieve the senseless loss of a loved one.

A severely damaged SCBA cylinder was thoughtlessly refilled and placed in a fire truck to await the next emergency use.  The next emergency came from within the truck itself.  Only a short time after being filled, the cylinder exploded, causing massive damage to the un-occupied fire truck.  Fire fighters who routinely ride next to that cylinder were lucky!  They were not aboard when the cylinder failed.  The community was lucky because had the 35 ton truck been responding to an emergency at the time the cylinder exploded, the heavy vehicle would have careened out of control and perhaps into many pedestrians along the street.

In July 2003 a cylinder exploded one day after filling, breaking the leg of an employee. Only a month later a cylinder in storage for several months exploded in a garage.  Perhaps many people were lucky by not being close to those cylinders.

Examples of destructive cylinder failures are many.  Each rupture should be a loud awakening call to all who use high-pressure cylinders.  Cylinders contain extraordinary force yet, when properly serviced and maintained, are quite safe.  Why then do 10 or more cylinders fail nearly each year and who is responsible for cylinder safety?

Final responsibility for cylinder safety lies with the cylinder owner. Unfortunately, too few owners are educated to be responsible.  In the US, Title 29 CFR requires the employer to ensure the safe condition of high-pressure cylinders based upon visual inspection.  That makes the employer responsible too. Title 49 CFR provides that each person subject to the potential hazard of high-pressure air receive appropriate and relevant safety awareness training.  The Fill Station Operator (FSO) is obligated to judge each cylinder safe before filling.

There is then an obligation for  each person who handles a cylinder to contribute to its safe condition.  Why then, with the cylinder owner responsible, the employer responsible and the user responsible for maintaining safe cylinders, do cylinders rupture from rather easily observed damage and defects?  The answer is obvious.  Many people who have an obligation for cylinder safety do not know enough about what makes a cylinder un-safe while others simply fail to accept their responsibility for cylinder safety.

If these folks continue to ignore their obligation, should someone or some entity act to reduce the high rate of cylinder explosive ruptures?  One such entity is the government.  Transport Canada (TC) and the US Department Of Transportation (DOT) have vested interest in cylinder safety and, with the dismal failure evidence before us, they may choose to act in a very restrictive fashion.  As is often the case, a government remedy may not be what the owners, employers, and users want.

Are there other responsible entities that could act to foster greater awareness and compliance with safe cylinder policies?  For the scuba industry there is DEMA (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association), truly in a leadership position to reach its members. Numerous associations maintain affiliate relationships with retail businesses where cylinders are filled.  Fire fighters also have state, provincial and federal organizations that can promote or regulate cylinder safety.  Perhaps insurance companies will make cylinder safety demands.

PSI, Inc. has a single purpose.  We provide the most technical and professional training worldwide for cylinder inspectors.  Properly trained cylinder visual inspectors can assess the condition of cylinders in their care.  PSI, Inc. instructors have trained over 15,000 inspectors and will continue to prepare technicians as quality visual cylinder inspectors.  It is noteworthy that the DOT specifically requires inspectors to be PSI trained when examining certain high-pressure cylinders.

More Industry leaders, including fire chiefs and business owners should demonstrate their leadership by making positive commitments that assure only safe cylinders continue in service.  They can encourage the education of cylinder owners, FSO, inspectors, other service technicians and hydrostatic requalifiers.  What steps will you take today, this week or this year to help educate those who use and inspect high-pressure cylinders and thereby prevent explosive ruptures?

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