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Asphyxiant Gases & Oxygen Depletion

Asphyxiant Gases & Oxygen Depletion

Posted by Claire Allcock on 9th Jun 2020

While Oxygen is the only gas in the air that supports life on Earth, there is only a 21% concentration of it. The rest is made up of mostly Nitrogen, and other trace gases. An increase in any gas other than Oxygen can lead to asphyxiation, which causes serious injury or even death.

Why Do We Need Oxygen?

Oxygen is taken into the body via the lungs, where it absorbs into the bloodstream and is then distributed throughout the body to support the function of all body cells. If the level of oxygen falls below the safe level, there isn’t enough oxygen to keep cells alive, causing damage to the body.

How Oxygen Concentration is Influenced

Inert gases such as Helium, Argon and Nitrogen are non-toxic, but they do not support any life function. When they are present in the atmosphere, they reduce the concentration of Oxygen to potentially dangerous levels.

Different levels of Oxygen depletion have different effects; at 19% depletion, people may suffer some mild physiological effects. A drop to 12–15% can cause poor judgement, faulty coordination, abnormal fatigue and emotional upset. If Oxygen concentration reaches 10% or below, this can cause immediate fainting, an inability to move, loss of consciousness and as previously mentioned, death.

With this in mind, it’s clear to see how important it is to monitor Oxygen levels in workplaces where potential asphyxiant hazards are present.

Industries With Asphyxiant Hazards

  • Medical: In the medical industry they use inert and specialty gases in MRI rooms, cryopreservation, tissue preservation and cancer treatment.
  • Laboratory: Laboratories use multiple inert gases such as argon, nitrogen and helium as carrier gases and also in cryogenics.
  • Commercial diving: Commercial and saturation divers use a heliox mix, which is a breathing gas composed of oxygen and helium.
  • Beverage and hospitality: Nitrogen is used to dispense beverages such as beer, and also prevent oxidation which can affect taste and quality.
  • Forestry: Gases such as phosphine (PH3) are commonly used to fumigate timber and other agricultural products prone to infestation
  • Horticulture: Nitrogen is used in the Controlled Atmosphere Storage (CAS) of produce including apples, pears, grains and legumes to keep food fresh and prevent decay.
  • Food packaging and storage: Nitrogen is used in both the packing and storage phases of products such as cooked meats, dried foods, fresh produce, fruits and vegetables.

Monitoring oxygen concentrations is incredibly important to the safety of your workforce if asphyxiant hazards are present. For more information on Oxygen monitoring and gas detection, get in touch to discuss your needs.