Early gas detection methods were not for the faint-hearted. Coal miners themselves were the source of gas detection, sent down the pit with a wet blanket over their heads and a flaming stick in outstretched arms, seeking out pockets of methane gas. The thought process was, better to lose one man than an entire crew.
Luckily, for these men, gas detection has come a long way over the decades and today we have an array of fixed and portable detection equipment sporting a variety of different sensors detecting a vast array of gases. But all gas detection equipment is only as good as the maintenance, servicing and testing it gets. Sensors have the ability to fail. Dust, dirt and water all have the ability to block sensor chambers and prevent the detection of gases. High gas exposure can severely impact the sensor’s ability to measure gas and that is without the daily bumps, knocks and drops portable equipment can face.
Gas detector testing
When it comes to testing and maintenance of your equipment there are several steps you should take to ensure the equipment you have is both fit for purpose and ready to work efficiently. Firstly you should always check that your equipment carries the CE mark, demonstrating that it conforms to relevant European health, safety and environmental protection legislation. Once you have established that this box is ticked, you need to think about ongoing maintenance and even workforce training to ensure that gas detection equipment is being cared for correctly and kept in good working order.
Equipment calibration should be carried out at least every 6 months, but bear in mind that if you rely on gas detection readings to be considered from a legal point of view, then equipment should be calibrated before and after each use. It is essential that this testing is carried out by a competent professional, better still an expert from the company that supplied the equipment as they will have a comprehensive working knowledge of your detectors. The HSE recommends that ideally, the gas to be measured should be used to calibrate your equipment and is normally supplied in a cylinder from a gas company. If more than one gas may be present and there is no obvious calibration mixture then it is advised that your instrument is calibrated for the least sensitive gas, but be warned that this will result in artificially high readings of other gases.
And lastly, there is Bump Testing. This is the process of just putting a tiny amount of the gases of concern on the instrument on a regular basis to ensure it is working properly every time you use it. Everyone knows about it, but not all of us will consider it before we use our gas detection equipment each day. We like to think about it in terms of having a car. You’re about to go on a journey, you fill up with petrol, put some water in your bottles, check your dipstick and give the tyres a kick to see if they need some air. All fairly standard and we do it routinely because we want to stay safe. In fact, the whole process of getting your car ready for a long journey can take up to half an hour. A simple bump test takes seconds, costs considerably less than a litre of water to fill your washer bottles up with and like all your pre-journey car checks – it absolutely can mean the difference between life and death.
BumpIT and BSIF
Bump testing needs to become legislation. We seem to feel that if something is not legally binding then maybe it isn’t that important and today we can skip doing it. We turn up to work, we switch our monitor on, it works, the display is visible and there is life in the battery – surely this is adequate? NO! You have no idea what impact your working life, habits and environment have had on your sensors. A simple bump test will ensure that your monitor is working correctly to detect the gases you need to know about in the environment within which you are working. It is a simple 15-20 second procedure whereby a small quantity of test gas passes over the instrument to verify it responds correctly and triggers both your audible and visual alarms.
Because Bump Testing is so important the BSIF (British Safety Industry Federation) launched its independent BumpIT campaign to raise awareness of bump testing in the UK with the ultimate aim of trying to put into legislation the need to bump test instruments that are used in any life critical and health-threatening environment. All the major gas detection manufacturers, including ourselves, are behind this campaign not because we want to sell you more instrumentation or gas but because we genuinely believe an employee has a right to come to work in the morning expecting to go home safely that night. If you knew beforehand that your gas monitor wasn’t working properly, you wouldn’t enter a hazardous environment with it, so make sure you do know before you trust your life to it.