Norwich Union warns businesses of the catastrophic dangers of using acetylene cylinders

Article date: 4 April 2007

Businesses should be aware of the hazards of working with acetylene and the importance of risk management when using such a flammable gas, says Norwich Union.

The call comes as London Fire Brigade is campaigning for new government controls over businesses using acetylene cylinders.

Acetylene is commonly used in the motor, engineering and maintenance sectors as the fuel gas in oxy-fuel sets for cutting, burning and welding.

Phil Grace, casualty risk manager at Norwich Union, said: "Acetylene is inherently dangerous, and can cause asphyxiation, but the greatest risks are those of fire and explosion.

"Application of heat or mechanical shock to acetylene cylinders will cause spontaneous internal heating of the flammable gas. The decomposition of acetylene could cause the cylinder to become unstable and even explode.

"When acetylene cylinders are involved a fire, the Fire & Rescue Service will follow a strict protocol - cooling water will be applied, an exclusion zone of 200m will be set up around the site and it may be necessary to evacuate any persons within that area.  The cooling process takes at least 24 hours as movement could restart or accelerate decomposition.

"With such potential hazards, businesses must undertake risk management and implement a number of key actions to reduce the risks of fire or explosions associated with acetylene cylinders.

"Above all, businesses should consider whether alternative procedures or fuel gases such as propane can be used.  If acetylene cylinders are required, the business should consider the implications for business interruption, as the minimum evacuation time is 24 hours should a fire occur.

"All employees who use acetylene should be fully trained and understand the necessary emergency procedures.

"Where acetylene is used for hot work, flashback arrestors should be fitted to all cylinders. In the use of long length hoses, flashback arrestors should be fitted at both blowtorch and regulator ends. Non-return valves should also be fitted on the blowtorch, which should be checked and replaced regularly. Acetylene should only be taken from the cylinders at the recommended pressure of less than 0.62bar.

"Ensure that cylinders are stored and handled correctly. Do not drop or roll along the floor and keep vertical at all times. Minimise the quantity of acetylene kept on-site and return redundant or unwanted cylinders to the supplier without delay. If you suspect a fault on a cylinder, contact the supplier immediately."


For further information, please contact:
Sam Bramwell at Staniforth on 0161 919 8024/ 077381 96667 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684225/ 07800 699670.

Notes to editors

  • Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.
  • It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest Financial Adviser (FA) providers.  FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.
  • Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at

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