Is an oxygen leak dangerous? How should we proceed in the event of a leak in an oxygen cylinder or pipeline? If you notice that your oxygen cylinder is running out too fast, it is a warning sign, and care should be taken. This document is intended to inform you about the dangers of oxygen-enriched atmospheres and the actions to be taken if an oxygen leak is detected. Below we will answer the most common questions from users of hospitals and medical and dental clinics; see below the topics we will address:

The Potential Risk of an Oxygen Leak

Pure oxygen is not flammable, but it makes fire burn faster and hotter. Any location where oxygen is stored or used must be relatively free of flammable and combustible items (even in contact with grease from equipment, boots, etc.) to avoid a fire situation. Examples of such materials include alcohols, solvents, petroleum products, and papers. Open flames, sparks, or high heat from items such as cigarettes, radiant heaters, and certain appliances must be controlled.

Oxygen Leaks and Corrective Actions

The amount of oxygen that leaks from a problem in the system varies according to its intensity. Leaks usually occur in the oxygen supply tubes. A greater risk is the loss of cryogenic oxygen from the patients’ system. The relative risk rating and appropriate action are described below:

Undetectable Leaks:

This type of leak usually is undetectable (no hissing sound). These leaks could result from a failed O-ring or other system components. The amount of oxygen released into the room is irrelevant. General ventilation will properly remove excess oxygen to avoid an oxygen-enriched atmosphere. If there is a small leak from a wall-mounted system, the problem can be easily repaired as a routine maintenance activity.

Leak Detectable By Sound:

Slow leaks are detectable by sound. This amount of oxygen released poses minimal risk to the patient or staff. However, immediate action is required. When detected, personnel need to call a company or an authorized maintenance team. The system can be shut down to perform the repair. Before taking this action, Respiratory care will be notified so that patients requiring oxygen can switch to oxygen in transportable cylinders.

Catastrophic Leak (Broken Valve Or Coupling):

Wall-mounted oxygen systems help prevent the catastrophic release of oxygen in inpatient care settings. If large amounts of oxygen are released, the oxygen-enriched atmosphere can greatly increase the fire. If such an event occurs, medical personnel will need to call on-site maintenance personnel and declare an Emergency. The team will send respiratory and technical care to take immediate action, and patient care is not compromised.

If a spill from the patient’s cryogenic supply occurs, oxygen may react with floor materials, resulting in a fire or explosion hazard in the affected area. People need to evacuate the area until all the oxygen is vaporized and the system exhausts the excess oxygen in the air.


Oxygen behaves differently from compressed air, nitrogen, and other medical and inert gases. Pure oxygen, at high pressure, like that in a cylinder, can react violently with common materials such as oil and grease. Other materials may catch fire spontaneously. Even a small increase in the level of oxygen in the air to 24% can create a risk

The main causes of fires and explosions when using oxygen are:

  • Use of materials not compatible with oxygen
  • Use of oxygen in equipment not designed for oxygen service
  • Incorrect or careless operation of oxygen equipment

Therefore, water tightness tests and preventive maintenance are essential in annual periods; if you need this work, contact a professional like Hydraulic Cylinder Repairs in Chicago, IL for example for repairs.