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Get it right!

23 January 2019

The importance of getting gas detection right can be the difference between life and death, so Peter Sherfield gives an overview of the latest advice and the methods for various applications.

MANY PLACES of work have a need to detect and monitor gas levels in the air where gases can present an immediate or longer-term danger due to flammability, toxicity or asphyxiation. ATEX models should be used for any explosive atmospheres caused by flammable gases, mists, vapours or combustible dusts.

If you’re not sure if you should be doing more to monitor your workplace, below is a useful overview of the latest methods used for a variety of applications and advice to help you ensure your supplier is fully supporting you in managing and fulfilling your duties and obligations.

For expert advice, consult an occupational hygienist (BOHS member), manufacturer or a manufacturer-trained supplier, who will assess your workplace and provide advice regarding your requirements. When selecting your supplier, look for professional credentials and memberships such as the BSIF Registered Safety Scheme Supplier logo, ISO 9001 standards, consider the amount of experience and longevity of the organisation, review testimonials and ask your industry peers for recommendations.

There is a level of responsibility when it comes to owning and maintaining gas detection equipment, so aim to work with manufacturers and suppliers who will go further than simply selling you a product and will actually support you in terms of achieving ongoing compliance and the confidence that you are effectively protecting your workforce.

A good example of this is the 2018 changes to the HSE EH40 Workplace Exposure Limits. These limits were adjusted and therefore the settings on gas detection instruments needed to be adjusted accordingly. By working with an expert partner or supplier, they will be able to advise you of the very latest legislation and help you to implement any required changes.

There have been numerous cases reported where this announcement has been overlooked and these settings have not been adjusted and, consequently, the organisation doesn’t realise that their gas detection equipment is no longer compliant. That failure to update these settings is the responsibility of the employer and if you’re not compliant you will ultimately be liable for any resulting consequences.

The reality of Brexit will mean that we will most likely adopt European standards in the UK and Ireland but, in the longer term, if UK legislation diversifies from that across the EU we will all need to ensure that instruments are compliant in terms of local law. Again, by resourcing expert partners who are up to date with the latest regulations you can rest assured you will be up to date with your working practices.

Individual employees might be exposed to a variety of potentially dangerous gases or a known specific gas at some point during their working day, if not all of it. These members of staff should be provided with a personal gas monitor which can be set to identify, monitor and measure between one and six gases simultaneously, depending on the specific environment.

Single- and multi-gas detectors are relatively inexpensive, and the newest models are often disposable which means once activated they remain on 24/7 and are replaced on battery expiry. They have ‘days left’ battery indicators displayed on-screen and alarm levels for specific gases can be set individually according to the latest legislation and guidelines.

‘Always on’ monitors are also ideal for multi-shift workplaces, as they can be handed from one employee to the next at the changeover point, effectively halving the number of monitors required in a fleet.

Look for a manufacturer or a supplier with partner manufacturers who can offer you dedicated training and specialist technical support on the phone or who are willing to come out to site to work with you to resolve any issues, all as part of your aftercare package. This level of service should be free of charge. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you work with a single manufacturer they will only offer you their own product range, so explore different technologies and ensure you consider a range of options.

Portable detection

Handheld and portable detection devices are ideal for walking surveys or site work where specific areas need to be monitored quickly and easily. With the added option of photo ionisation detectors (PIDs) to identify volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you can measure and monitor over 480 VOCs and toxic compounds in any environmental conditions with confidence, right down to levels of 1ppb (one part per billion).

The latest models are accurate and fast – just two seconds response time - with exceptional resistance to humidity and contamination, so are suitable even in the harshest conditions. Users also benefit from a battery life of up to 24 hours.

A reputable supplier will be able to support you with your instrument asset management. This is vital when it comes to managing your fleet, traceability of asset history, record-keeping, service and calibration records. They can help with long-term planning and give you plenty of warning in terms of obsolescence, should your instruments be coming towards the end of their life cycle. They will also automatically supply you with any software updates, ensuring you are working to the latest legislation and guidelines.

A supplier who is ISO 9001-compliant will have rigorous processes in place to be able to work in partnership with you to provide a complete service. This is vital if, for example, an incident happens in the workplace and proof of instrument maintenance is requested during the investigation.

The detection of gases within an outdoor area can be achieved by either setting up a network of portable devices which can be networked together to form a perimeter or boundary monitoring system. Or for a permanent indoor solution, installation of a fixed gas detection system.

These systems can be configured to detect, monitor and measure several gases simultaneously – including oxygen depletion indoors - and are widely used across many industries. 24/7 protection is achieved through constant monitoring and alarm settings, which, if triggered, set off audible and visible alarms at the site as well as instantly notifying remote response teams as required.

Make sure your supplier can supply manufacturer-trained technicians who offer on-site calibration and service visits. As you would use a Gas Safe-registered engineer for your gas work in your home, they will have the industry knowledge you need to maintain your system properly. They will also be fully insured to carry out gas site work and have the authorisation of the manufacturer.

All gas detection instruments require a certain level of servicing and calibration, regular testing to ensure they are fit for purpose and in good working order. Specific timeframes vary between models and manufacturers but the most common recommendation is annually. Always check with your supplier or manufacturer for your instrument’s particular maintenance schedule.

Your supplier should support you by sending you service and calibration reminders when they’re due and also have a fleet of hire instruments available for you to ‘hot swap’ while yours are being serviced, ensuring no downtime and saving you the cost of ownership by removing the need for spare instruments in order to keep your workforce fully protected.

You should always use an insured, manufacturer-recommended and approved service centre to ensure the engineer looking after your instruments is qualified to do so. The stark reality is also that any works undertaken by a workshop which is not approved can actually void your warranty as well as leave you with responsibility for a faulty instrument which hasn’t been maintained in accordance with manufacturer instructions.

Bump testing

The single most important piece of advice for gas detection, as discussed by the BSIF Special Interest group for Measurement and Instrumentation, of which Shawcity’s MD Neil O’Regan is chair, is to regularly ‘bump test’ your gas detection monitors. As with any device, performance can become compromised due to issues including knocks, damage, humidity or sensor contamination.

For gas detectors, bump testing means passing a small amount of test gas over your monitor sensor/s before each and every use. The ‘bump test’ is in addition to servicing and calibration (which are your annual checks, similar to services and MOTs on cars) and is a simple function test to make sure your monitor and the sensors within it are working as they should before it is deployed.

Bump testing is easy, literally takes seconds and costs just a few pence each time in terms of test gas usage. As gas detectors are usually deployed for life-critical situations, it should always be a top priority. Further details and instructions on how to perform bump tests for your specific instrument can be obtained from the manufacturer or your supplier.

Peter Sherfield is product specialist manager at Shawcity Ltd. For more information, visit www.shawcity.co.uk.