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Liquid Nitrogen in the Food and Beverage Industry

  • Issued: November 1, 2016
  • Content last reviewed: November 2016

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Hazard summary

Liquid nitrogen (LN2) is a cryogenic liquid commonly used in a variety of cooling applications such as food freezing, biological sample preservation, metal treatment and lesion removal (cryotherapy). More recently use of LN2 has become popular in the retail food and beverage industry for the preparation of novelty ice creams and cocktails. Through evaporation and cooling of the air, LN2 generates a visible fog that adds to the patron’s overall entertainment experience.

Nitrogen is a colourless, odourless and tasteless inert gas that makes up approximately 78 per cent of the earth’s atmosphere. LN2 is nitrogen in a liquid state at extremely low temperature (-196°C) that expands rapidly at room temperature to nitrogen gas (1 litre of LN2 produces 700 litres of nitrogen gas). The nitrogen gas produced is a simple asphyxiant capable of displacing oxygen in air, which can lead to dizziness, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness or death.

LN2 can also cause cold burns, frostbite or eye damage on contact. Bare skin can stick to objects cooled with LN2. Substances such as rubber or carbon steel can become brittle and shatter. Tremendous force can be generated with rapid vaporization.

LN2 can be released into the atmosphere during liquid transfer, as a result of leaking valves or pressure relief valves on containers and from open containers. Vent restrictions and blockages or use of sealed containers can result in over-pressurization and explosion.

Hazard location

Hazard locations include front-end food and beverage providers, such as restaurants, bars and ice cream serveries where novelty cocktails and ice cream using LN2 are made to order.

Precautions

  • Only use and store LN2 in adequately ventilated areas away from moisture and chemicals that may promote container corrosion.
  • Provide an oxygen monitoring system in areas where LN2 is stored and used, and where oxygen displacement can occur.
  • Avoid skin and eye contact with LN2. Use personal protective equipment, including loose fitting insulated (cryogenic) or loose fitting leather gloves (for quick removal), goggles and a face shield, long-sleeved shirt (or arm protection), pants without cuffs and closed-toe shoes or boots. Pants should not be tucked into boots or shoes. Canvas shoes should not be worn as they can absorb LN2.
  • Use only those containers designed for storage (e.g. cryogenic storage tank or liquid cylinder) of LN2.
  • Use proper transfer equipment (e.g. Dewar) and dispense slowly from one container to another to prevent splashing, thermal effects and pressure build-up. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding transfers. Use a dolly or handcart when moving containers.
  • Develop and implement an emergency plan and first aid measures.
  • Train workers on the hazards of working with LN2, engineering controls, use of personal protective equipment, work practices, emergency response procedures, first aid and the use and calibration of oxygen monitoring equipment.

Legal requirements

Legislative provisions that may apply with respect to the handling, use and storage of LN2 in a workplace include the following:

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA):

  • Clause 25(2)(a) – An employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker.
  • Clause 25(1)(c) – An employer shall ensure the measures and procedures prescribed (i.e. required by the regulations) are carried out in the workplace.
  • Clause 25(2)(d) – An employer shall acquaint a worker or a person in authority over a worker with any hazard in the work and in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any article, device, equipment or a biological, chemical or physical agent.
  • Clause 25(2)(h) – An employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.
  • Clause 27(1)(a) – A supervisor shall ensure that a worker works in a manner and with the protective devices, measures and procedures required by the Act and its regulations.
  • Clause 27(2)(a) – A supervisor shall advise a worker of the existence of any potential or actual danger to the health or safety of the worker of which the supervisor is aware.
  • Clause 27(2)(c) – A supervisor shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.
  • Clause 28(1)(a) – A worker shall work in compliance with the provisions of the Act and its regulations.
  • Clause 28(1)(b) – A worker shall, use or wear the equipment, protective devices or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn.

Under Regulation 851 (the Industrial Establishments Regulation):

  • Section 81 – A worker exposed to the hazard of eye injury shall wear eye protection appropriate in the circumstances.
  • Section 82 – A worker exposed to the hazard of foot injury shall wear foot protection appropriate in the circumstances.
  • Section 84 – A worker exposed to the hazard of injury from contact of the worker’s skin with,
    • (a) a noxious gas, liquid, fume or dust
    shall be protected by,
    • (e) wearing apparel sufficient to protect the worker from injury; or
    • (f) a shield, screen or similar barrier,
    appropriate in the circumstances.
  • Section 127 – An industrial establishment shall be adequately ventilated by either natural or mechanical means such that the atmosphere does not endanger the health and safety of workers.
  • Subsection 138 (1) – Where a worker is likely to be exposed to an atmosphere at atmospheric pressure with an oxygen content of less than 18 per cent, the worker shall be protected by mechanical ventilation so that the worker’s safety and health is not endangered.

Note: the Ministry of Labour has recently consulted on a proposed change to the minimum oxygen content set out in this subsection 138 (1) to align with the requirements of section 7.1 of Regulation 833 (the Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents). It is proposed that this section be revised to require mechanical ventilation be provided where workers are likely to be exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere that is less than 19.5 per cent by volume.

Under Regulation 833 (the Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents Regulation):

  • Section 3 (1) – Every employer shall take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to a hazardous biological or chemical agent because of the storage, handling, processing or use of such agent in the workplace.

    (2) The measures to be taken shall include the provision and use of,
    • (a) engineering controls;
    • (b) work practices;
    • (c) hygiene facilities and practices; and
    • (d) if section 7.2 applies, personal protective equipment.
  • Section 7.1 – If the listing for an agent in the ACGIH Table includes the reference "Simple asphyxiant" and the agent is present in the air at the workplace, the employer shall take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from,
    • (a) exposure to an atmospheric oxygen level that is less than 19.5 per cent by volume; and
    • (b) related hazards such as fire and explosion.
  • Section 7.2 (1) – An employer shall protect workers from exposure to a hazardous biological or chemical agent without requiring them to wear and use personal protective equipment, unless subsection (2) applies or the employer complies with an applicable code of practice.

    (2) The employer shall provide, and workers shall wear and use, personal protective equipment appropriate in the circumstances to protect the workers from exposure to the agent, if engineering controls required by this Regulation,
    • (a) are not in existence or are not obtainable;
    • (b) are not reasonable or not practical to adopt, install or provide because of the duration or frequency of the exposures or because of the nature of the process, operation or work;
    • (c) are rendered ineffective because of a temporary breakdown of the controls; or
    • (d) are ineffective to prevent, control or limit exposure because of an emergency.

Under Regulation 860 (the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulation):

  • Section 6 – An employer shall ensure that a worker who works with or who may be exposed in the course of his or her work to a hazardous product is informed about all hazard information, including all information the employer receives from a supplier concerning the hazardous product and all further hazard information of which the employer is or ought to be aware concerning its use, storage and handling.
  • Section 7 (1) – An employer shall ensure that every worker who works with or who may be exposed in the course of his or her work to a hazardous product is instructed in,
    • (a) the contents required on a supplier label and workplace label, and the purpose and significance of the information contained on the labels;
    • (b) the contents required on a safety data sheet and the purpose and significance of the information contained on a safety data sheet;
    • (c) procedures for the safe use, storage, handling and disposal of a hazardous product;
    • (d) procedures for the safe use, storage, handling and disposal of a hazardous product when it is contained or transferred in,
      • (i) a pipe,
      • (ii) a piping system including valves,
      • (iii) a process vessel,
      • (iv) a reaction vessel, or
      • (v) a tank car, a tank truck, an ore car, a conveyor belt or a similar conveyance;
    • (e) procedures to be followed when fugitive emissions are present; and
    • (f) procedures to be followed in case of an emergency involving a hazardous product.
    (2) An employer shall ensure that the program of worker education required by subsection (1) is developed and implemented for the employer’s workplace and is related to any other training, instruction and prevention programs at the workplace.

    (3) An employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the program of worker instruction required by subsection (1) results in the workers being able to use the information to protect their health and safety.
  • Subsection 17(1) – An employer who receives a hazardous product from a supplier for use, storage or handling at a workplace shall obtain a supplier safety data sheet for the hazardous product from the supplier unless the supplier is exempted under the Hazardous Products Regulations (Canada) from providing a safety data sheet for the hazardous product.

Note: Recent amendments to the OHSA and the WHMIS Regulation (Regulation 860) made under the OHSA, came into effect July 1, 2016 adopting new, international standards that are part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). These amendments reflect changes to the federal Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Products Regulation, which came into force February 11, 2015. To give workplace parties time to adjust to the new requirements, there will be a transition period to gradually phase out the old requirements with transition completed by December 1, 2018. More information can be found at Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.

References

Safety alert: Hazards of Liquid Nitrogen in the Food And Beverage Industry (PDF)
Compressed Gas Association

Safetygram 7: Liquid Nitrogen (PDF)
United States Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Laboratory Safety: Cryogens and Dry Ice (PDF)
United States, Occupational Safety and Health Administration

How Do I Work Safely with - Cryogenic Liquids
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Safe Handling and Use of Liquid Nitrogen (PDF)
University of Wisconsin – Madison, Office of Biological Safety

For more information

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Partners

Ontario.ca e-Laws

Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre
Toll-free: 1-877-202-0008 TTY: 1-855-653-9260 Fax: 905-577-1316

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.