AMU Emergency Management Health & Fitness Opinion Public Safety Resource

Oxygen Tank Accident Prevention Requires Training and Policy Analysis

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

Oxygen is one of the most important things that many living things need in order to survive. During times of serious medical or traumatic emergencies, oxygen is one of the most vital components to patient care.

But the storage of oxygen can be dangerous, too. Oxygen tanks are filled with compressed oxygen that is under high pressure. If an oxygen tank’s regulator stem is sheared off, an oxygen tank can take off like a rocket and go through a concrete wall, as proved by the television show MythBusters.

Oxygen tanks also pose numerous threats to an ambulance, because the tanks can cause explosions if they are not handled appropriately. In a tragic incident in Ireland last year, an oxygen tank exploded in an ambulance, killing a patient and injuring two paramedics.

Accidents resulting from oxygen tanks happen rarely, but when they do occur, there are numerous internal issues involved. Often, a company has not trained their employees about oxygen tank accidents or did not emphasize the importance of safeguarding the tanks. Public safety managers should consistently assess if they need to revisit any part of their training plans to keep these types of accidents from happening.

Oxygen Tank Accidents Are Forceful Enough to Cause Injury or Death

In 1999, the U.S. Fire Administration published a report about how medical emergencies can result in fires. The report detailed the seriousness of situations involving medical oxygen equipment.

Ultimately, it is important for public safety agencies to train their employees about the appropriate usage of oxygen tanks, their storage and the numerous emergencies that result from improper handling.

Infrastructure Problems Often Lead to Public Disasters

Scholars of political science, sociology and public administration posit that emergencies resulting from training failures are often a result of a larger agency problem. For example, managers may fall in love with a short timeline for a goal or may not have appropriately trained a department on some of the measures associated with a certain type of emergency.

A 2009 Harvard Business School article written by scholars Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky and Max H. Bazerman highlights numerous instances where organizations moved forward with tight or poorly designed goals that resulted in epic failures — including the Ford Pinto.

Similarly, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan describes the infrastructure problems associated with the Challenger disaster. This accident was caused by an administration error because NASA had to work within a short timeline and cut through some of the red tape to make it happen.

Experts have argued that, unfortunately, the Challenger Disaster was not the result of one individual, but rather the result of numerous problems within NASA. All of these problems culminated in the Challenger’s explosion and also included the faulty O-rings that were a factor in the explosion.

Implications of Infrastructure Problems for Public Safety Agencies

Whenever a serious accident happens with oxygen tanks or other problem equipment in a public safety agency, it is the work of managers to investigate why a certain event took place. These accidents should serve as an indicator for the need to properly train people and prevent future accidents.

It can be difficult to know where the faults in a department lie. But looking at other agencies is helpful in figuring out how to tighten policies and improve employee understanding.

Preventing Emergencies Comes from Proper Training and Well-Developed Policies

Emergencies happen due to numerous factors in any public safety agency and occur for just about any reason. While it can be difficult to figure out exactly where the fault lines run in any department’s infrastructure, it is still important to train people about potential hazards.

Small issues could turn into much larger issues in the long run. For example, training first responders about the dangers associated with oxygen tanks is simple. But when an accident occurs arises from the improper use of oxygen tanks, the consequences are often serious, even life-threatening.

Preventing emergencies within public safety departments will largely come from training and policy management and create a better and safer work environment.

Start an Emergency & Disaster Management Degree at American Military University.

Allison G.S. Knox

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison works as an Intermittent Emergency Management Specialist in the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response. She also serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences and chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds five master’s degrees.

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