In the UK, the number of patients requiring oxygen therapy is on the rise – thanks to an increase in respiratory conditions, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Oxygen therapy can deliver huge benefits in terms of maintaining patient independence and quality of life.
It also comes with everyday challenges and real risks – including fire, tripping and electrical hazards. In this post, Tony Morrin, Technical Director at AMS Composite Cylinders explores these real world risks, before looking at how patients can best manage them.
Common risks and safety precautions
Whether patients are using cylinder systems or concentrators, oxygen therapy carries two main risks:
The first, and most serious of these, is fire.
Both cylinders and concentrators involve the use of concentrated oxygen. Oxygen rich environments increase combustion, meaning that fires start more readily and burn more intensely. With the right environment, even substances that do not usually burn can be set alight.
For home oxygen users, this brings about some real risks – cigarettes, gas fires, heaters, candles and even electrical sparks can all cause serious fires if not managed correctly. At the same time, using petroleum based creams, moisturisers and oils can all increase the risk of fire.
To mitigate this risk, users should:
- Avoid smoking and open flames– never smoke or light open flames in the vicinity of oxygen therapy.
- Check tubing for leaks– and report any that they find immediately
- Turn off cylinders– never leave oxygen flowing when not in use
- Store oxygen safely– keep cylinders stored in a safe place, in line with the provider’s instructions
- Avoid oil-based creams– these can increase the risk of flammability. Patients should avoid wearing any oils, oil-based lotions, creams or moisturisers when using oxygen.
Long tubes, carry straps and electrical wires used for oxygen concentrators can also pose a tripping hazard in the home. To avoid the risk of tripping, oxygen therapy equipment should always be kept in a safe place, away from high traffic areas. Equipment should be stored away safely when not in use.
Oxygen concentrators rely on electricity or battery packs for operation – and as with any electronic equipment, these come with their own safety risks. This is exacerbated by the risk of electrical sparks, which can cause combustion in oxygen risk environments (see fire section above).
Cylinder systems do not use oxygen, and therefore do not pose the same electrical risks.
Real life risks and safety precautions
The positive news is that the real life risks posed by today’s cylinder and portable concentrator systems are low – both systems are manufactured to extremely strict guidelines and quality standards.
Today’s cylinders are incredibly robust. They are manufactured from carbon composite materials – the same materials used in the production of F1 cars, space shuttles and even bulletproof vests. The result is an extremely robust, lightweight container that can deliver hours of oxygen in a safe, portable manner.
As long as users always follow the right safety precautions, and do not become over familiar or complacent, the risks are minimal. All of the home oxygen suppliers provide full safety information with their systems designed to ensure proper, safe usage.
Additional information about the fire risk associated with using oxygen, and how to reduce it can be found in our previous post – Risks, Safety and Design – Fire and Pressurised Gas Cylinders.
Security of supply
Whilst risks and safety of use are important, generally, they are not the primary concern for patients.
For those who depend on oxygen, maintaining security of oxygen supply is significantly more important. Concerns about whether the concentrator battery has enough charge, that the cylinder has enough gas left in it, or that the supplier will deliver on time are common.
In reality, cylinder oxygen supply in the UK has never been more stable, easy or cost effective. Every day, home oxygen suppliers like Air Liquide, Baywater Healthcare, BOC Linde and Dolby Vivisol deliver over 10,000 cylinders across the country. It’s a 24/7/365 operation to patients and the NHS, backed up by a robust supply chain.
Equipment challenges – practical portability and weight
Another significant challenge to patients is the portability of oxygen therapy equipment. Patients do not want to be stuck at home or restricted by bulky equipment.
Both cylinders and portable concentrators require patients to carry equipment with them.For cylinders, this includes the cylinder and a carry bag (or possibly a trolley) and for portable oxygen concentrators, this will include the bag, trolley, battery and power charger.
In terms of weight, portable oxygen concentrator systems are comparable in weight to traditional aluminium cylinder systems. However, full systems are significantly heavier than comparable composite cylinders.
Portable, lightweight systems
At AMS Composite Cylinders, we produce the lightest range of carbon composite cylinders available today. Our systems provide a significantly better oxygen supply to weight ratio than either traditional aluminium cylinders or portable concentrators.
In demand (pulse dose) conditions, a 2 litre carbon composite cylinder from AMS can provide 3-4 times the oxygen supply per kilogram of weight. This can make a huge difference, especially to elderly or frail patients for whom carrying additional weight is particularly restrictive.
Lightweight composite gas cylinders from AMS
AMS Composite Cylinders is the exclusive continental European and UK distributor for an advanced range of lightweight, composite gas cylinders that are ideal for a wide range of healthcare, homecare, breathing gas and medical gas applications.
Our high-quality carbon composite cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), low weight, and NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide.
Further information about AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd can be found at www.ams-composites.com.
Article written by Tony Morrin. Director of AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd.