Using 4-Gas Monitors To Mitigate Hazardous Atmospheres

Do employers always account for every hazard in their safety plans? They certainly try to! Large industrial equipment with dangerous moving parts?  Develop a safety procedure. Powered tools that can cut or break through solid concrete? Definitely should have a safety procedure.

Visible hazards make it easy to ensure that safety plans are in place; after all, the hazard is right there.  The potential incidents and injuries they can cause are obvious. But what about the hazards that are less visible, or worse, invisible?

Take, for example, the common gases that are monitored in excavations and confined spaces: carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), Oxygen (O2) and the lower explosive limits (LEL) of combustible gases. For many, these are not the threats that immediately come to mind when considering work hazards. However, the fatal injuries that can result from these gases mean they should be a priority.

Just How Dangerous Are Hazardous Atmospheres?

Carbon monoxide can displace the oxygen in an environment, and lead to flu-like symptoms.  It can also cause a person to pass out, which is especially dangerous if that person is working up high or near dangerous equipment. Because it can’t be seen or smelled, there is no way to know it is in the air without a gas monitor. It is most common in the exhaust of internal combustion engines.

Hydrogen sulfide is a rather distinctive gas that is both flammable and toxic, and is a byproduct of decomposing organic matter. When it is highly concentrated, it can be fatal with just a few breaths.  In lower concentrations, it creates a smell like rotten eggs.  However, higher concentrations can deaden the nerves in the nose, and commonly isn’t smelled after the first “whiff.”  Many people are incorrectly deceived into thinking it is no longer present because they can’t smell it.

Oxygen can be extremely dangerous. Low concentrations can lead to loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and death. High concentrations are highly combustible, creating intensely flammable conditions when exposed to an ignition source. It is also colorless, and has no distinct smell.  Only a gas monitor can determine whether the oxygen levels are dangerous for employees.

Combustible gases include a wide variety of gases that burn or even explode when exposed to heat in the right conditions. These gases need to be present in just the right amounts to be dangerous, but when they are, they can lead to significant injuries and damage.

The Importance Of Gas Monitoring

Gas monitoring and testing must be part of any safety procedures where there is a potential exposure to these hazardous atmospheres. Testing is made easier because of the wide variety of 4-gas monitors that are available.

Why the 4-gas monitor? Convenience is a major factor; with one device, a trained employee can determine whether the concentrations of these gases in an area pose a danger to employees working in or near the space. They do not require extensive testing or a laboratory environment to indicate that an environment is not suitable for unprotected employees. That means they can be used on location and in real time.

It is important to make sure that the employees using the 4-gas monitors are properly trained, and that the manufacturer’s directions are followed. If used improperly, employees can falsely believe that they are working in safe conditions.

The exact operation will depend on the monitor used. For most 4-gas monitors though, there are a few common recommendations.

  • Bump testing performed daily or before each use. Check that it is functioning correctly by intentionally exposing the monitor to a controlled concentration of the gas. Doing so ensures that the monitor’s sensors are working properly.
  • Routine maintenance and calibration testing should be performed per the manufacturer’s instructions. If the monitor isn’t functioning correctly, it could provide employees with a false sense of safety and lead to a tragic incident.
  • Use the proper materials. Especially with hoses, the materials they are made of matter. Some materials absorb the gases before they make it to the monitor’s sensors. If the sensors don’t detect the gas, then employees think the environment is safe, even though it is not.

Optimum Safety Management Can Help You Develop A Hazardous Atmosphere Safety Plan

Safety requires a team commitment from management and employees. When you make that commitment, you promise each other that everyone will go home safely every day. Using 4-gas monitors allows employers and employees to maintain that commitment.

Another important tool is having an official safety plan with procedures in place for handling hazardous atmospheres. If you need help developing or revising your safety plan, contact Optimum Safety Management at 630-759-9908 to schedule your free consultation.

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