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 in liquid form is just as dangerous, since it forms when Nitrogen reaches very low temperatures. As a result, it is a cryogenic fluid which can cause rapid freezing on contact with living tissue, which may lead to cold burns or frostbite. It can also be extremely hazardous if rapidly vaporized, because of the tremendous amount of force generated during the process.
This safety flash focuses on asphyxiation (suffocation), cryogenic (hypothermia or frostbite) and high pressure hazards associated with handling and working with both gaseous and liquid Nitrogen.
Recent statistics indicate that Nitrogen asphyxiation hazards resulted in 80 deaths and 50 injuries and many of these incidents were caused by inadequate knowledge of Nitrogen hazards. The majority of incidents occurred during work in or near confined spaces, often because a person exposed to an oxygen deficient atmosphere has no warning, and cannot immediately sense that the oxygen level is too low.
Nitrogen gas is not a “poison” in the traditional sense but it presents a hazard of asphyxiation when it displaces oxygen. Breathing an oxygen deficient atmosphere can have serious and immediate effects, including unconsciousness after only 1 or 2 breaths.
The air that we breathe is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. According to studies, the maximum “safe level” of oxygen is said to be 23.5%. 21% is normal and 19.5% is considered to be the minimum “safe level.” At 15-19% the first sign of hypoxia or insufficient oxygen in the body occurs, resulting in a decreased ability to work strenuously and may induce symptoms in people with heart, lung, or circulatory problems.
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