Hidden danger

27 June 2018

Monitoring toxic gases and hazards in the workplace is a lot easier due to intelligent technologies, says Gary Collins

THERE WERE 180,000 new cases of self-reported work-related breathing or lung problems between 2016/17.¹ This could be due to workers not wearing the appropriate protective respiratory equipment or employees not monitoring the workplace for toxic gases and substances using the most innovative solutions.

Gas monitors have dramatically developed since the industry’s first monitoring instruments, where workers were replied upon as being the monitoring solution. At the end of shifts, employees working in mines would be covered in a wet blanket and asked to carry a flaming wick along the mine shaft. If the area ignited, gas had been detected.²

Now, a range of intelligent sensor technologies have been designed and developed for atmospheric monitoring, detecting almost any harmful gasses individuals might be exposed to and doing this in an extremely safe, easy and simple way. This article looks at the importance of atmospheric monitoring and the benefits of portable gas detectors.

Portable gas detection

Portable gas detection refers to a monitor that is carried by an individual, providing protection for that user. Visual, audible, and vibratory alerts notify users when detection of gas has occurred and then precautionary measures can be taken. Portable units are typically used in confined space areas where fixed gas detection is not available, where it is not practical to provide continuous monitoring of an individual, or to verify an atmosphere is not hazardous when servicing a fixed gas detection system.

Portable gas detectors are versatile solutions, suited to numerous safety applications, although they may seem small and simple, portable gas detectors are robust, with many designed for use in the toughest of industrial environments. To identify the most appropriate monitoring solutions, however, employers must undergo a rigorous risk assessment, ensuring the right selection of monitoring solutions.

Risk assessments of the working environment will reveal the types of gases that could potentially be present, the quantity and toxicity of the gases, areas of a confined space or areas that have the potential to become a confined space and, identifying workers at risk.

When evaluating such risks, informed decisions can be made about the appropriate gas monitoring solutions required.

Gas monitor selection

There is a wide range of gas monitors available that will detect harmful gases during the risk assessment. For example, if a fire officer is performing a non-fire rescue where someone may have collapsed due to the carbon monoxide (CO) level in the atmosphere, or performing a home safety visit where the CO level is unknown, a single gas detector is sufficient. If working in a confined space, however, a multi-gas monitor is essential to detect the risk posed by a number of potential gases that could be present.

In almost all cases, consideration needs to be given to the presence of four main gases:  methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide and oxygen. Monitoring the presence of one gas will not provide sufficient protection from the potential effects of other gases on the body if present in the atmosphere. These gases are either toxic and can affect the lungs, causing illness, poisoning or they are combustible, leading to a risk of explosion if mixed with oxygen.

Safety in the workplace should be a universal responsibility and all members of the team should be educated and trained about how to use monitoring solutions and identify toxic gasses.

Training will ensure the chosen monitoring solution will provide optimum protection. It is vital that all workers in contact with gas detection equipment are properly trained. Training could cover general information about the devices, how to handle them, the care of monitors, maintenance and calibration, as well as practical training and how to use them.

A core purpose of the training is to ensure users understand how to use the equipment and how to react if it alerts them to the presence of gas. As the old adage goes, ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ and taking the precautions could save lives.

Gary Collins is regional director for portable gas detection at 3M Scott Safety. For more information, visit