What is oxygen enrichment?

Q:

What is oxygen enrichment?

A:

The concentration of oxygen in confined spaces is a concern from two standpoints. Too little oxygen can cause asphyxiation. Excessively high or "enriched" levels of oxygen above normal concentration in fresh air can dramatically promote or accelerate combustion and other chemical processes.

Elevated concentrations of O2 can cause ordinary combustible materials to become flammable or explosive (see Confined Space Safety 101 for a primer on confined space risks).

The definition of oxygen enrichment varies between different standards and regulatory documents. OSHA 1910.146, and 1926 Subpart AA reference 23.5% as the concentration above which the atmosphere is hazardous because of oxygen enrichment. However, OSHA 1915 Subpart B, “Standard for shipyard employment” specifies 22%. The latter value is consistent with non-mandatory recommendations from groups such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The most conservative standards specify 22% as the concentration above which the atmosphere is deemed to be hazardous due to oxygen enrichment.

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Written by Bob Henderson
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Bob Henderson is President of GfG Instrumentation, Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.Robert has been a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association since 1992. He is an active member of the AIHA Real Time Detection Systems Technical Committee, and the AIHA Confined Spaces Committee. He is also a past chair of the Instrument Products Group of the International Safety Equipment Association. Robert has over 37 years of experience in the design, sale and marketing of atmospheric monitoring instruments used in confined space, industrial safety, and industrial hygiene monitoring applications.

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