Nitrogen safety, as an inert gas, is said to be a component of the air we breathe but can pose a serious threat because it is an odorless, tasteless gas that completely displaces oxygen. Nitrogen has a low heat-transfer capability and does not flow very fast. The result is that it tends to stay in a place in a cloud. A breeze higher than 5 miles or death can occur with little warning.
Nitrogen can be found in both natural and industrial settings. The air that we breathe is approximately 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Make no mistake; Nitrogen is not a “poison” in the traditional sense. It presents a hazard of asphyxiation when it displaces oxygen. (Asphixia is defined as a condition in which an extreme decrease in the amount of oxygen in the body, accompanied by an increase in carbon dioxide, leads to loss of consciousness or death.)
Remember that only oxygen supports life, so if its levels dip below 21%, breathing problems occur. An atmosphere of less than 19.5% oxygen is considered hazardous. Loss of consciousness can occur after one or two breaths of nitrogen enriched atmosphere.
Note that Nitrogen is safe to breathe only when mixed with the appropriate amount of oxygen. What is Nitrogen? Nitrogen can be found in both natural and industrial settings. According to the United State Chemical Safety Board (CSB), 85 incidents occurred in the past decade that resulted in an average of 8 deaths and 5 injuries each year.
Causes of the incidents include personnel:
- Not knowing they were entering oxygen depleted environment.
- Not knowing the atmosphere in the environment had changed.
- Mistaking nitrogen with breathing air (workers have improperly adapted breathing apparatus fittings to fit on bottles containing pure nitrogen – a deadly mistake)
- Keep in mind that it is the lack of oxygen that causes nitrogen asphyxiation.
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