In this Q & A, Dr Michael Strahand, general manager of Analytical Technology Europe, discusses the results of recent research into the dangers of gases in the workplace and provides legislation advice on protecting those working in the manufacturing industry from harmful gases
Q. Why did you decide to commission the research into gas detection in the workplace in the first place?
A. Five years ago I visited an industrial waste treatment facility and carried out a site survey which resulted in a recommendation for an upgrade to a new gas detection system being provided, however, the upgrade was not implemented and tragically a few months later a young man died after walking into a cloud of gas under a reaction vessel. It was this that first triggered my initial concern for the awareness of gas safety, however more recently many plant operators in the UK have expressed concerns about whether gas detectors, which are typically mounted in the process area of manufacturing facilities, are actually functioning at all times. In addition to this many people expressed confusion around understanding the system for testing gas sensors and the legislative requirements that protect workers.
As a result, we decided an investigation was necessary and commissioned third party researchers to interview health and safety managers, plant managers, instrument engineers and plant operators on the importance of gas detection in the workplace across six different industries, including the food and beverage industry.
Q. What were the results of the research?
A. Shockingly, it was discovered that almost a quarter of managers would carry on working if the gas detectors in their plant failed, in comparison to only 8% of workers that would continue to work. The need for clear access to regulatory information was also apparent, with only 26% of managers testing their detectors at least monthly (under Health and Safety Legislation the employer is responsible for ensuring detectors in the workplace are working at all times). The only way to do this is to have a system in place for regular testing or auto testing equipment.
Q. What are the possible causes of gas leaks in manufacturing plant environments and what are the safety/production implications of these leaks?
A. There are a great number of possible gas leaks. Gases are often held in bulk storage and then piped around a facility for use in process. The pipe networks can be very long and are often pressurised. The pipe network will contain a large number of valves and connectors, every one of which is a potential leakage point and the bulk storage tank itself is a point of risk. Tanks are designed with safety in mind, but they can still leak or in the worst case explode. Bulk storage tanks need filling up which is the most risky part of the process as large volumes of gas are being moved around through fittings that have to be coupled and uncoupled. Analytical Technology supplies a lot of gas detectors to cover tanker filling areas. Human causes of leaks include leaving a valve open, over tightening a connector, puncturing a pipeline, puncturing a storage vessel and not connecting the pipe to the tanker correctly.
Process implications are usually simpler, if the gas is leaking catastrophically the process stops, however if it is leaking just a small amount, the process is inefficient, but more importantly the small leak could also of course kill someone. The safety implications of a leak depend on the nature of the gas; highly toxic gases can kill, explosive gases can cause explosions.
Q. Is there any legislation in place to regulate how gas risks should be dealt with? If not, is it likely that regulations will come into force at some point?
A. Employers are required to protect their employees from harmful gas exposure under the General Health and Safety Legislation. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) includes a regulation 7:1; that the employer should ensure exposure is prevented or if this is not possible adequately controlled. Regulation 20 refers to a requirement to monitor gas detection equipment, as failure or deterioration of the control measures could result in serious health effects and to monitor equipment in order to ensure exposure limits or any self-imposed working standards are not exceeded.
The Health and Safety Executive also states that employers must document a written procedure for how they will respond if a gas detector alarm sounds and have an emergency procedure in place along with refresher courses. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states that gas appliances must be located in a position that is easily accessible for use, inspection and maintenance, as well as the person specified to carry out maintenance is registered with the Gas Safe Register. For more information on gas safety in the workplace visit www.workplace-gas-safety-org.uk. The Health and Safety Executive website also provides information on how to carry out a COSHH risk assessment at www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/index.htm.
Q. What should specifiers look for when choosing a gas detection system?
A. Specifiers should look for detection limits, reliability, confidence in the measurement, ease of use, cost of calibration, after sales back up and cost of spares. Unfortunately the gas detector market has descended to almost commodity level at the bottom end of the market and price is a massive driver. Analytical Technology prefer to work with customers who believe safety matters more than the price of the sensor.
Q. What does AutoTest monitoring technology actually check for and how? What information does it provide and how is it supplied?
A. The Analytical Technology detector has an additional integral gas generator. This can be programmed to automatically release a small amount of gas in front of the sensor every day to check that it reacts to the gas and is therefore still working. Each test is logged within a memory chip inside the sensor which can be linked to a PC to be downloaded. If a sensors fails, an alarm is activated. If the gas sensor is not responding correctly to the gas, then it is an indication that the sensor should be replaced as people could be at risk if there was a leak.
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