ALERT Learn More | NASP Certification Program: The Path to Success Has Many Routes. Choose Yours


What Does Asphyxiation Mean?

Asphyxiation refers to the deprivation of oxygen in the body. If not corrected immediately, it can lead to loss of consciousness, brain injury, or death. A person who has died of oxygen deprivation is said to have been asphyxiated.

Asphyxiation is also known as asphyxia.

Safeopedia Explains Asphyxiation

Asphyxiation is a significant concern wherever workers are required to enter confined spaces, since these spaces can contain toxic vapors, chemicals, and other atmopsheric hazards. They may also have to work with substances that can alter the level of oxygen in their surroundings. Work environments where nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide are present, for instance, need to be monitored for oxygen depletion.

Oxygen Levels and Asphyxiation

Asphyxiation happens when asphyxiants present in the ambient air displace oxygen. OSHA stipulates that the air in workplaces and on jobsites must contain between 19.5 and 23.5 percent oxygen to be considered safe for workers. Oxygen concentrations below 19.5% make the body's functioning laborious.

Oxygen deficiency can have the following effects:

  • 10 to 12% oxygen: increased respiration and impaired judgment
  • 8 to 10% oxygen: fainting and loss of consciousness
  • 6 to 8% oxygen: can be fatal in a span of about 8 minutes

The Two Types of Asphyxiants

There are two types of asphyxiants, both of which interfere with the supply of oxygen in the body:

  • Simple asphyxiants are gases like hydrogen, nitrogen, and methane that are not toxic but can put people at risk by displacing oxygen in the atmosphere.
  • Chemical asphyxiants are chemicals that interfere with the transportation or absorption of oxygen in the body. Exposure to these chemicals can result in asphyxiation even if the atmosphere has an adequate supply of oxygen. Chemical asphyxiants are considered toxic, can be fatal if inhaled, and a single exposure at sufficient concentrations can cause lasting health effects like asthma.

Preventing Asphyxiation Incidents

Anyone working with asphyxiants such as argon, acetylene, carbon dioxide, ethane, hydrogen, propane, or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), must be aware of the risk of asphyxiation. Workers who may enter confined spaces should also be trained on the heightened asphyxiation risk in those environments.

In addition, they should:

  • Use the right type of respiratory protection equipment
  • Follow procedure when entering a confined space, including notifying a supervisor or co-worker before entry
  • Know the symptoms associated with oxygen depletion
  • Be aware of emergency procedures in case of an incident
  • Carry a personal gas monitor, especially when working alone or in confined spaces



Share this Term

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Related Reading


HazardsEmployee HealthSafety Hazard

Trending Articles

Go back to top