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Oxygen 101

Facts, history, and how-to of Oxygen Administration


Why do we need Emergency Oxygen?

The air a person normally breathes contains approximately 21 percent oxygen. The concentration of oxygen delivered to a victim through rescue breathing is 16 percent.  A condition known as hypoxia (insufficient oxygen to the body) can occur if a person goes without adequate oxygen for an extended period.

Signs and symptoms of hypoxia include:

  •  Increased breathing and heart rate
  •  Changes in level of consciousness
  •  Restlessness
  •  Cyanosis (bluish color on lips and nailbeds)
  •  Chest pain

When should Emergency Oxygen be used?

Note that you should provide emergency oxygen to a victim having difficulty breathing if it is available and if you are trained to administer oxygen. Emergency oxygen should be considered in these situations.

FOR ADULTS breathing rate is less than 12 breaths per minute or more than 20 breaths per minute.
(aged between 2 and 16 years)
breathing rate is less than 15 breaths per minute or more than 30 breaths per minute.
(aged under 2 years)
breathing rate is less than 25 breaths per minute or more than 50 breaths per minute.

What do I need to administer Emergency Oxygen?

  • An oxygen cylinder.
  • A regulator with pressure gauge with a functioning flow meter.
  • A delivery device such as a resuscitation mask, a non-rebreather mask, or nasal cannula (for the nose).
  • Training. Although application of any first response aid may seem simple, there are safety issues that need careful consideration.


Precautions using Emergency Oxygen.

  • DO make sure that oxygen is flowing before placing the delivery device over the victim’s mouth and nose.
  • DO NOT use oxygen around flames or sparks. Oxygen causes fire to burn more rapidly. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around oxygen in transport, in use or on standby.
  • DO NOT use grease, oil or other petroleum products to lubricate or clean the pressure regulator or any fitting hoses, etc. This could cause an explosion.
  • DO NOT stand oxygen cylinders upright unless they are secured in a rack or cart approved for such use. Note that if an oxygen cylinder falls, the regulator or valve could be damaged. Oxygen cylinders are under high pressure and any breakage can cause serious injury.
  • DO NOT hold onto protective valve caps, valves or valve guards when moving or lifting cylinders.
  • DO NOT alter or remove any labeling or markings on the oxygen cylinder or attached equipment.
  • DO NOT attempt to mix gases in an oxygen cylinder or transfer oxygen from one cylinder to another.
  • DO NOT store oxygen cylinders near flammables or hot water heaters, near electric or phone boxes, where they can have something heavy fall on them, where they could be tipped over or exposed to heat or direct sunlight.
  • DO NOT store oxygen cylinders where temperatures may rise above 125°F (51.6°C).


General safety issues.

Never use an oxygen cylinder without a functioning regulator that fits properly with the cylinder valve. When the tank is not in use keep valves closed even if the tank is empty. Note, you must never store oxygen tanks anywhere that can rise above 125°F (51.6°C).

If defibrillating, make sure that no one is touching or is in contact with the victim or the resuscitation equipment. And remember, due to the flammable nature of oxygen, you should never defibrillate someone when around flammable materials, such as gasoline or free-flowing oxygen.

Never drag or roll cylinders. Carry a cylinder with both hands (never by the valve or regulator) or with a dolly or rolling rack approved for use with oxygen cylinders.

When transporting oxygen cylinders, do not store them in the trunk of your car where they can roll around and damage the valve and/or the regulator. Since oxygen cylinder are high pressure devices, any sudden stop, acceleration or sharp turn could turn them into a projectile hazard that could cause serious injury. Rather than risk heat exposure which could cause a potentially hazardous release of gas, remove cylinders from vehicle if temperatures outdoors is expected to rise above 80°F (26.6°C).

Regularly check cylinders for leaks, bulging, and defective valves. Also check for rust or corrosion on the cylinder or cylinder neck or regulator assembly. No adhesive tape should be put around the cylinder neck, oxygen vale or regulator assembly as it can hamper oxygen delivery.

EMS Safety is happy to release our latest program, Emergency Oxygen Administration, to teach lay and professional rescuers how to administer oxygen during an emergency. The program can be used as a stand-alone course or as a supplement to basic and professional rescuer training.

The administration of oxygen during an emergency may delay damage to vital organs. Your students will learn:

  • When to use emergency oxygen and how it may help
  • Set up and delivery with various delivery devices
  • How to use oxygen during bag mask ventilation
  • The risks associated with use and storage
  • Safe storage and handling
  • How to use oxygen with advanced equipment

The target audience for Emergency Oxygen Training is as varied as the audience for CPR/AED and First Aid training. Some of the common uses include:

1. Emergency response providers

  • First responders, EMRs, EMTs, Paramedics
  • Firefighters
  • Correction/public law enforcement
  • Nurses and doctors
  • Lifeguards
  • Ski patrol
  • Public safety responders

2. Industrial/Corporate Emergency Response Team

3. Employees with a duty to respond

  • Athletic trainers
  • Flight attendants
  • Hotel hospitality
  • Security

4. Employees at any company with oxygen cylinders onsite

5. Employees in hazardous environments

  • Divers
  • High altitude locations
  • Mines

The program is taught through a PowerPoint presentation; Instructor Kits are available with supplies for teaching Emergency Oxygen Administration.

To document successful completion, check the appropriate box on the provider certification card (First Aid, or CPR/AED for Professional Rescuers) or issue the Emergency Oxygen Certificate.

Contact EMS Safety for more information or to buy your Emergency Oxygen Administration Instructor’s kit.

Tools for Emergency Oxygen

Oxygen Tanks

Oxygen Training Supplies

Personal Protective Equipment

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