Why can’t I get my oxygen cylinder filled?
Several DAN members who own oxygen equipment have recently experienced difficulties in having their private oxygen cylinders refilled. In response to enquiries, they have received responses ranging from “the cylinders are unsafe” to “the cylinders do not meet national standards”. Whereas the first statement incorrect (unless the cylinders are damaged or out of date), the second appears to be due to a misinterpretation of recent legislation involving compressed gas cylinders. The purpose of this document is to provide you with the necessary background with which to respond to the problem.
Whilst it remains the prerogative of gas providers to refuse any cylinder (and DAN cannot force them to accept private oxygen cylinders – even the ones we have sold) we can arm you with the correct information so that we may collectively reduce the confusion surrounding recent legislation affecting the way compressed gas cylinders are to be controlled. Most importantly, we wish to assure you that this issue is not about anything inherently unsafe about the DAN cylinders at all; it is a purely an administrative and safety management issue. We can assure you that DAN oxygen cylinders meet international and local safety standards, are inherently safe, and we have complete confidence in them when handled appropriately – as is the case for all compressed gas systems.
Some necessary background: The “use” of high pressure cylinders (legally defined as transportable gas containers), such as SCUBA and oxygen cylinders, is regulated in South Africa by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993, as amended from time to time). However, the Act was written for occupational settings – not with the recreational (non-occupational) diver in mind.
The manufacture, importation and/or sale of a compressed gas cylinder is certainly covered by the Act. When a diver wants to have a compressed gas cylinder filled, either with air or oxygen, once again the Act applies: It is very specific on who may fill cylinders and the legal requirements for so-called filling stations. It is only the actual use of the cylinder by the private diver that falls outside of the Act.
So what is it that I must comply with?
All high pressure, compressed gas cylinders, whether manufactured locally or imported, whether new or used, must comply with the requirements of SANS 10019 (2011) before they may be filled. This is not a new requirement and it applies to all portable gas containers. This is the reason, for example, why even the most colour-coordination-conscious divers are not permitted to have a set of pink tanks…! So, what are these requirements?
SANS 10019 was produced to provide detailed guidance on how a cylinder should be designed, manufactured, tested, marked, inspected and maintained throughout its working life. Furthermore, it provides that only a person competent to fill a container shall do so. When it was drafted and revised, it drew on a multitude of international standards already in existence and proven over many years, so it does not advocate new or unnecessary requirements. However, for the average man in the street, it is somewhat difficult to interpret and leaves many people confused as to what they need to look out for.
So why all the confusion?
Despite a written Act of law, clear regulations, a local standard, many excellent manufacturers of cylinders, a list of approved inspection companies, and sufficient filling stations, we still have to consider two issues – both of which are relevant and acceptable in our country: Firstly, a filling station is allowed to make their own, internal regulations as to what they are prepared to accept for filling. Oxygen can obviously be dangerous if not handled correctly. So each company is obliged to take responsibility for the safety of its employees as is provided for in the OHS Act. This is what often leads to the blanket refusal to accept all private oxygen cylinders for filling. Similarly, a filling station is entitled to prefer certain configurations of cylinders, valves, thread types, seals and materials. In fact, SANS 10019: 2011 contains specific requirements for SCUBA cylinders, and SANS 39: 2006 deals with PIN Index valves for medical gas cylinders. If the filling station believes that a cylinder with e.g., a parallel thread is either difficult to service or presumed to pose any risk or danger to the health and safety of its employees (e.g. as a result of accidental re-assembly of cylinders and valves with similar looking, but incompatible components) it may choose to refuse accepting such an oxygen cylinder. (Remember that many cylinders are older than the revised SANS standards and are thus allowed to be used as long as they are regularly inspected and tested.) Secondly, the OHS Act, its Regulations as well as the Standard applies to employers, employees and users of filling equipment, in respect that such equipment falls within the ambit of the definition of machinery. Although the Act does not apply to the end user, being yourself, the recreational diver, liability for the negligent use of filling equipment cannot be excluded. While buyers, importers, commercial end-users or any other party in the chain, inspection companies and filling stations all fall within the strict ambit of the Act, it is quite possible to find cylinders that do not comply with the exact requirements of SANS 10019. In fact, the vast majority of cylinders are likely to have at least one non-compliance” with these requirements.
However, in the main, cylinders produced or sold by reputable and known companies do meet all the design and safety requirements and we find that the non-compliances usually refer to a few pieces of information that have not been stamped onto the shoulder of the cylinder. This does not make them unsafe, but one has to again consider the position of the inspection or filling company – they need to know essential pieces of information and without a detailed manufacturer’s certificate, they can only rely on the information stamped onto the cylinder.
How do I find out if my cylinder does comply?
South Africa has a national approval system for inspection companies, and even though this was changed a few years back, you will find references from the Department of Labour and/or SANAS (South African National Accreditation System), approvals for companies offering these services (check the SANAS website). Note that all cylinders sold through DAN SA are manufactured and certified to international codes, are then inspected and certified under SANS 10019 by a local, authorized inspection center before being sold specifically for “oxygen use”. We not only comply with all the requirements, but also the intent of the law – that is to ensure safety and minimize risk. If you have bought your cylinder elsewhere, you simply need to take your cylinder to any one of these companies and ask them to check this for you. Of course, this should be done during your required regular inspections (annual “visual” or internal inspection for SCUBA cylinders, two-yearly inspection for non-underwater cylinders for breathable gases) and as long as you make sure that the company is registered and approved, you should be safe. You can check the current list of SANAS approved companies using the following link: www.sanas.co.za/
The important thing to know, as an owner of a cylinder, is that you are not required to do anything other than have your cylinder inspected properly and filled by an approved filling station. The onus is on the filling station to make sure that your cylinder is “in date” (meaning that it has had its required regular inspections) and during the inspections, all compliance issues should be dealt with.
What do I do if it does not comply?
Should you be informed by your inspection company, or by the company who you have asked to fill your cylinder, that your cylinder has a compliance issue, then the onus would, of course, be on you as owner to have this rectified as soon as possible to avoid risk of injury to yourself or another diver using the cylinder? DAN would suggest that you approach the manufacturer or seller to have the lack of compliance rectified in accordance with the SABS approved standard.
Can anyone seize my cylinder?
The answer to this question is simply that no one is entitled to remove or withhold your cylinder. The can only refuse to fill it; and they may decline to issue an inspection certificate for further use.
So what should I then do before I buy a cylinder?
When considering purchasing a cylinder, always demand compliance, in writing, with the SANS 10019 Standard. Any such cylinder should be properly stamped in accordance with ISO13769, being the international standard setting certain requirements for information to be stamped on all oxygen cylinders. The colour coding and valve fitted should thus also comply with SANS 10019 and SANS 039. Once again, all cylinders sold through DAN SA are manufactured and certified to international codes, are then inspected and certified under SANS 10019 by a local, authorized inspection center and are then sold specifically for “oxygen use”.
Are cylinders sold by DAN-SA safe?
Yes absolutely! And, as mentioned previously, all DAN cylinders comply with all the legislative requirements, and with the intent of the law – that is to ensure safety and minimize risk.
Due to a variety of reasons, South Africa has instituted additional stamping requirements prior to cylinders being sent out for the first time. This does not suggest that unstamped cylinders are suddenly unsafe. This unique South African requirement applies to all cylinders, including cylinders already in circulation. We can help you locate approved filling and inspection companies. Also, if you are the owner of a DAN cylinder, bought prior to this legislation being introduced, and you are informed that your DAN cylinder is missing items of information not stamped onto the shoulder, please contact us and we will have this remedied at no cost to you . Ironically, even with this all in place there may still be some facilities that insist that the parallel threads in the cylinder are not acceptable. This is an internal policy of certain companies and cannot be undone or overcome by reasoning. Just remember that all aluminum SCUBA cylinders are also parallel-threaded and, in addition, they are typically pressurized to 200 Bar – not 150 Bar as oxygen cylinders are!
The OHS Act provides, amongst other things, for the protection of persons against hazards to health and safety arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work. The OHS Act provides that the Minister of Labour may issue certain Regulations which provide for the design, manufacture, use and maintenance of equipment, as well as the health or safety measures to be taken by employers or users as defined in the Act. The Pressure Equipment Regulations, or PER, specifically deal with portable gas containers.
A “user” is defined in the Act as a person who uses plant or machinery for his (or her) own benefit or has the right of control over the use of 'plant or machinery'.
“Machinery” is defined as “... any article used for converting any form of energy to performing work or which is used for inter alia storing, transferring or controlling any form of energy”. The Regulations provide for the safeguarding of machinery which includes that every employer or user of machinery shall ensure that all machinery used by him is suitable for the purpose for which it is used and that it is operated and maintained in such a manner so as to prevent the exposure of persons to hazardous conditions or circumstances. Furthermore every employer must ensure that all safety equipment is kept in a good working condition and is properly used.
Against this general background a specific code of practice (which is to be read with the Act and Regulations) was laid down by the South African Bureau of Standards (“SABS”) in regard to the basic design, manufacture, use and maintenance of transportable metal containers for compressed gas. The Standard was published in September October 2001 as edition 7 (it started off life as SABS 019) and also covers cylinders for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (“SCUBA”) such as tanks and oxygen cylinders used by DAN Members. The Standard is quite specific in regard to not only design and manufacturing criteria for oxygen cylinders but also in regard to issues such as repair, marking and filling of oxygen cylinders.
Such a person (a “filler”) shall be fully conversant with the relevant requirements of the Standard, must be satisfied that the container is suitable for the intended purpose, that the container is not due for periodic inspection or testing and that permission to fill the container has been granted by the owner thereof.
Furthermore, before filling any container, the filler must ensure that the cylinder complies with the requirements of an approved standard, that the cylinder, valve and safety devices, if any, must be in a good serviceable condition and the cylinder should not show any significant defects. In addition to carrying out an inspection as mentioned above, the filler shall ensure that no cylinder equipped with a foot ring is used for underwater service and that the cylinder is not due for periodic inspection and testing. If the cylinder has a detachable boot, the filler shall remove the boot and inspect the bottom of the cylinder for signs of external corrosion.
Once the cylinder is filled the filler shall keep a record of inter alia the following information: date of filling, name and address of the owner, origin of the cylinder and its serial number, date of latest examination, type of gas filled into the cylinder and charging pressure.
Conditions apply and you need to contact Morne Christou to co-ordinate this. Tel: 011 266 4900 Fax: 011 312 0054 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org