Manufacturing Injury prevention Manufacturing

Dry ice and liquid nitrogen: Alert warns of serious health risks to workers

Photo: Susan Vineyard/iStockphoto

Tumwater, WA — Dry ice and liquid nitrogen pose potentially deadly health risks to workers in food, beverage and other businesses that use, transport or store these cooling agents, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries warns in a new hazard alert.

When dry ice and liquid nitrogen are exposed to air, they become a gas – carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, respectively – and displace oxygen, which then can lead to suffocation, the alert states.

Other hazards presented by dry ice – solid carbon dioxide – and liquid nitrogen include ice burns and permanent frostbite damage to unprotected skin and eyes, as well as explosions when pressure builds up in non-venting, airtight containers holding either product.


Precautions should include:

  • Examining the workplace to determine if and how storage, transportation and use of dry ice or liquid nitrogen might harm workers.
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation in vehicles, rooms and other spaces where these products are used or stored.
  • Establishing written safety procedures for working with these products. This should include protocols for foreseeable emergency situations, such as major and minor spills and/or leaks of liquid nitrogen.
  • Installing and maintaining alarms that signal low oxygen levels, and/or providing workers with oxygen-level monitors.
  • Avoiding dry ice or liquid nitrogen storage in sealed containers, vehicles or poorly ventilated spaces.

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