The silent killer - carbon dioxide leaks in the cellar

Related tags Occupational safety and health

Carbon dioxide (CO2) leaks from dispense gas cylinders in the cellar continue to pose a health and safety threat to licensees and their staff. In the...

Carbon dioxide (CO2) leaks from dispense gas cylinders in the cellar continue to pose a health and safety threat to licensees and their staff. In the past year at least three people have been hospitalised as a result.

What's more, new legislation is forcing publicans to do something about reducing the risk. The British Beer and Pub Association is drawing up plans to raise awareness and leading dispense gas supplier BOC Sureflow has launched its own campaign, supported by the British Institute of Innkeeping.

Brewer Scottish Courage has already teamed up with the company to provide its pub customers with a new Cellar Gas Management Service which covers equipment, risk assessment and C02 monitors.

Here, Gloria Jennings, product manager at BOC Sureflow, presents some advice on health and safety in the cellar.

Hardly a week goes by without reading about increasing demands on licensees to comply with the latest piece of health and safety legislation. Just more red tape? It's easy to lose sight of the fact that the rules are made to protect and help people.

One of the most recent laws to affect pubs is called the Confined Spaces Regulations. These require a licensee to undertake an assessment of specific risks to establish whether significant hazards exist to people entering or working in a confined area, such as a cellar.

One risk is the loss of consciousness or asphyxiation due to the inhalation of fumes - one of three main hazards associated with dispense gas cylinders that licensees should guard against. The other two are cylinders that have been illicitly filled and the manual handling of cylinders.

The CO2 in dispense gas is a silent killer. It is odourless and invisible and anyone can quickly be overcome in the cellar before realising that something is wrong. Death can occur within minutes depending on the level of exposure and state of health of the person involved. Accidental leakage can happen if a cylinder becomes damaged, mishandled or stored incorrectly.

There is no need for alarm. Compliance with the health and safety regulations is not difficult and is mostly a matter of common sense. Take a few minutes out of your day to carry out a few simple safety checks on a regular basis and you can enjoy peace of mind - you may just save a life, too.

  • Assess and record the level of asphyxiation risk in your cellar (see panel)
  • In high risk cellars consider installing a CO2 monitor alarm, making sure your staff know what to do if it activates
  • Keep the number of gas cylinders stocked to a minimum - the less dispense gas on site the lower the risk
  • Check all equipment regularly for gas leaks
  • Maintain adequate ventilation
  • When using dispense gas systems, follow the manufacturer's safety and maintenance instructions
  • Ensure staff are regularly trained and understand exactly what to do to protect themselves and others in the event of a gas leak.

Publicans should aim to achieve a "low risk" rating for their cellar. Anything more than this and corrective action will need be taken to reduce the risk.

Licensees can carry out the assessment themselves or get an expert to do it. BOC Sureflow has developed an easy formula to calculate the level of asphyxiation risk in the cellar. This takes into account the size of the cellar, the number and type of cylinders stored and other contributing factors such as ventilation.

You should also use a supplier you can trust. One gas cylinder may look very much like another but don't be fooled by a freshly branded cylinder.

It is estimated there are 150,000 stolen gas cylinders in circulation in the UK. Unscrupulous dealers acquire stolen cylinders which appear to be safe but the interior could be severely corroded. This not only presents a high safety risk but can affect your drinks as well.

Corrosion contaminates soft drinks and beer, producing an unpleasant metallic taste.

For the sake of saving a few pounds, is it worth putting your life and your business in danger?

  • Only use gas cylinders from reputable suppliers whose safety/quality standards can be trusted
  • Look out for attempts to replace the supplier's brand/ label on a cylinder - this is an instant giveaway
  • Never lend gas cylinders or have them removed by anyone other than the supplier.

Cylinders containing pressurised gas need to be extremely robust and are very heavy. Moving a cylinder requires great care to avoid muscular strain or injury. It is a well-known fact that back injuries account for more lost working days than anything else in the UK and it makes sense to ensure your staff are familiar with the correct way to handle these heavy items.

In conclusion, it's easy to sit back and adopt a "couldn't happen to me" attitude. But it does happen - there have been at least three reported incidents at licensed premises in the past year where people have been hospitalised as a result of asphyxiation. Why lapse into complacency and put the lives of your staff, friends, and family at risk when operating a safe cellar environment can be as easy as pulling a pint of beer?

For more information, contact:

  • Health and Safety Executive:​ Infoline 08701 545500, website
  • BOC Sureflow:​ Tel 08457 302 302, website

Ten tips for a safer cellar

  • Train all staff who have to enter the cellar on the potential risks and in safety practices and procedures
  • Check the delivery route for gas cylinders is free of obstructions and tripping hazards
  • When cylinders are being delivered put up safety barriers to warn against open cellar flaps, hatches or doorways
  • Carry gas cylinders in a vertical position, close to the body. Don't lift cylinders heavier than 25kg unaided and use a trolley or lifting equipment whenever possible
  • Keep cellars well lit and floors dry and free of grease to avoid slipping
  • Wear protective footwear and gloves when handling gas cylinders
  • Chain cylinders in use in an upright position and chain upright or chock horizontally cylinders not in use, whether they are full or empty
  • Display safety/warning notices at all times
  • Store cylinders away from heat sources or direct sunlight
  • For easy and safe lifting, don't stack items above shoulder height and never stack items in front of cylinders.

Asphyxiation risk assessment

Is risk assessment a legal requirement?

Yes. The Confined Spaces Regulations together with the management of health and safety at work regulations require that a "confined space" be suitably and sufficiently assessed for all specified risks that constitute a potential safety hazard to people entering or working in the area.

What are a licensee's duties under the legislation?

  • Identify and assess specified risks
  • Devise an action plan to reduce such risks
  • Create a safe system of work for all those who work in or have reason to enter the confined space
  • Train all personnel who might enter the confined space
  • Record risk assessment findings and actions and review at regular intervals
  • Devise a recovery plan in the event of an incident.

What are the consequences of non-compliance?

The Environmental Health Officer (EHO) could apply a prohibition notice on the outlet, prosecute the licensee or invalidate insurance policies.

How often is a cellar risk assessment required?

A risk assessment should be completed at regu

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