By Mark Gresham,President PSI-PCI, Inc.
During the past few months PSI-PCI has received many inquiries regarding safe cylinder handling related to the pandemic. Using several PSI-PCI best practices for cylinder safety we offer the following guidance.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has provided research on the virus that directly causes COVID-19. Although guidance has been issued it has evolved over time so prudent operators of SCUBA center fill stations should continually read the latest guidance to ensure they are following the most current information. We recommend the Fill Station Operator (FSO) wash their hands and use gloves and an approved mask following current guidance from CDC.
Can we disinfect the cylinder valve? The current guidance from CDC indicates COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces up to 5 or 6 days. This would suggest that the virus could live on the cylinder valve for several days infecting all who continue to touch it. While handling SCUBA cylinders by the valve is the most common method, we recommend implementing a long standing PSI-PCI best practice of handling the valve with the orifice pointed away from your hand. Not only will this prevent issues with the compressed gas but will help prevent potential contamination. SCUBA valves can be cleaned using disinfectant such as bleach in a 1% solution in water using a soft nylon brush gently scrubbing the valve, alternatively a bleach wipe may be used. Immediately following scrubbing or wiping open the valve to blow out any moisture that may remain in the valve orifice to prevent introducing it to the cylinder. For nearly 40 years we have recommended blowing out the fill whip and cylinder valve prior to filling as a best practice.
Can COVID-19 be introduced to the cylinder during filling? We know that compressing air physically produces heat and temperatures as low as 195F (91C) with a few minutes exposure will kill the virus. Air compressors will produce heat during the multi-stage compression process as high as 350F (177C) instantly killing the virus. Following PSI-PCI guidance, compressor inlets should be located in a well ventilated room or outside on the windward side of the building. The FSO should be following CDC guidance wearing gloves and an approved mask while filling cylinders or during preventive maintenance on the compressor or associated components.
By following these recommendations it is possible to reduce our exposure and increase our safety to COVID-19.