Helium (chemical formula ), is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas. It is a chemically inert gas, meaning it does not react with other elements. Helium is lighter than air.
While we are probably most familiar with the use of helium for inflating balloons, helium is actually most commonly used across commercial applications, such as for cryogenic use to cool the magnets within medical equipment/machinery.
Helium is also used to test for leaks in high pressure containers, in airships and rockets, as well as arc welding. It can even be used to estimate the age of some types of rocks.
The routes of exposure for helium include inhalation, skin and eye contact. Ingestion is not considered likely due to the gaseous state of the chemical.
Inhalation of helium over prolonged periods may cause respiratory discomfort and stress. Inhalation of vapours may be damaging to the health, with symptoms including dizziness, drowsiness, reduced alertness, loss of reflexes/coordination and vertigo. Inhalation of high concentrations of helium can be dangerous as helium can displace oxygen and hence cause the individual to suffocate.
Although helium isn’t thought to be a skin irritant, good hygiene practices are recommended to ensure exposure is minimised. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds may also lead to other harmful effects.
While unlikely due to its gaseous state, direct contact with the eye may cause tearing and redness in the eye.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device to ensure the safety of the rescuer. Continuously monitor their breathing and pulse. Seek medical attention immediately.
If skin exposure occurs, flush the affected area with plenty of soap and running water. Seek medical attention if irritation persists.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, remove the patient from the contaminated area and take to the nearest eye wash station or emergency shower. Open the eyelids wide to allow the chemical to evaporate. Flush the eyes out with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Transport to hospital.
Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical. Proper ventilation is essential in removing and diluting any air contaminants. If natural ventilation is unavailable, ensure local exhaust is installed.
The PPE recommended when handling helium includes safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, protective overalls and cloth or leather gloves.
Always refer to your SDS to ensure you have the most current and detailed advice when it comes to handling helium. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our chemicals management solutions.