Partially Full Oxygen Cylinders

Q: My Facilities Director just attended a state association of healthcare facilities managers. He stated that the presenter said that for oxygen cylinder storage and segregation, if a cylinder is not completely empty it is considered full. This is 180 degrees from what we have always been told. At our hospital, we have always said that any cylinder that is has been opened is no longer considered full and must be stored with the empties. Have you heard anything to this effect?

A: This sounds like a surveyor preference issue, to me. In other words, this may be just the presenter’s opinion, or perhaps a CMS Regional Office’ opinion. NFPA 99-2012, section 11.6.5.2 says “If empty and full cylinders are stored within the same enclosure, empty cylinders shall be segregated from full cylinders.” Well, a partial cylinder is not full, so in my way of thinking it cannot be stored with the full cylinders.

Actually, the presenter is not wrong when he says a partial cylinder should be stored with the ‘Full’ cylinders. Since NFPA 99 does not address partially full (or partially empty) cylinders, how they are stored is left to the AHJ to decide. If the presenter represented an AHJ, then he is within his right to say partial tanks cannot be stored with the empties. But taking this a step further, section 11.6.5.3 says “Empty cylinders shall be marked to avoid confusion and delay if a full cylinder is needed in a rapid manner”.

This shows us the intent of the code is to prevent a non-full cylinder from being grabbed in an emergency. If partially-full cylinders are stored with full cylinders, then that goes against the intent. However, the intent of the code is not well-written on this particular issue and we are stuck with what is written, which does not prohibit an AHJ interpreting section 11.6.5.2 to say partials cannot be stored with empties. I guess the best advice is to follow what Joint Commission is requesting… that there be three (3) separated storage areas; one each for full cylinders, partially full cylinders, and empty cylinders. That should solve the problem.