With the anticipated rise in the use of nitrogen in the maritime industry both on board and ashore, there is an increasing risk of further nitrogen-related incidents unless precautions are taken and operations managed correctly. The information paper, ‘Best Practice Recommendation Regarding the use of Nitrogen’ from the Chemical Distribution Institute (CDI), considers the hazards and makes recommendations for operations involving nitrogen.

The paper is intended for ship crews and any personnel involved with the carriage of bulk chemicals in tankers, including surveyors, inspectors and charterers.

Although non-toxic, nitrogen is an odourless, colourless and tasteless inert gas that has been a causal factor in many incidents, including fatalities, as any inhalation of nitrogen can lead to unconsciousness or death. Instances have occurred not just inside enclosed spaces, but also from being near pressurised tanks when they are intentionally or unintentionally released.

Recommendations are provided for the use of nitrogen as an inert gas in onboard operations, including the safety precautions involved. They cover nitrogen use during cargo discharge, padding (blanketing when tanks are being loading or are loaded), when using fixed or portable tank cleaning machines and during purging and gas-freeing operations.

The paper advises risk assessment to be carried out and reccomends cooperation with charterers or cargo owners when carrying chemical cargoes that are incompatible with the use of nitrogen. The requirement to maintain minimum levels of oxygen in tanks with oxygen dependent inhibitors, used with certain self-reacting cargoes, is also advised.

As not all vessels have nitrogen generators fitted, reference and guidance is provided for ships requiring the use of shore-based nitrogen supplies.

Nitrogen and related warning signage is shown, with explanatory text in the Appendix.

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