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Wireless Gas Detection, Protection and Prevention

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Whether you work in an industry full of latent dangers, like on an oil rig, or in one full of apparent and active dangers,like firefighting, safety is always a top priority. When it comes to ten feet high walls of flames and rusty barrels leaking toxic materials, most companies—hopefully—have a safety procedure in place to deal with these more obvious threats. But often times, the most dangerous threats to employees’ safety are the ones that you don’t think about as much, mostly because you can’t see them.

Having a Plan of Attack

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Ideally, you’d want employees who are proactive about gas detection. If you work in a factory, you want that factory floor staffed with people who notify their superiors the moment they notice anything out of the ordinary in their surroundings.

Depending on the work environment, gases that pose a serious threat to employee health include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane, chlorine and ammonia among others. Exposure to these gases can range from causing breathing difficulty, nausea and vomiting to even more serious things like heart damage, asphyxiation and death.

You want employees who are aware of the dangers gases can cause. But of course, that knowledge by itself isn’t enough to keep them safe – you also have to have protocols in place about what to do in case of a gas leak. The best plans will be uniquely suited to match the specific work environments they are to be carried out in, but there are some general rules most plans should follow.

First and foremost, you should have gas detectors installed, but that isn’t where the plan stops. You need to have a solid evacuation plan in place as well. Every employee should know the safest and fastest route to the nearest exit and you should have designated meeting places outside of your building.

Consider grading your leak alerts on three levels: suspected leak, persistent leak and ignited leak. A suspected leak could be one noticed by an attentive employee. They might smell something odd or notice a hissing sound. In this case, you’d want to investigate the area and tighten the valves on any gas canisters if you have them. If you have a wireless gas monitor, bring it into the area in question to see if anything really is leaking. If the monitor alerts you that there is a leak, or if the smell or noise confirms that the presence of a leak is undeniable, then you have a persistent leak. This is when you should enact your emergency action plan, evacuate the building and alert the authorities.

If you have an ignited leak, follow your emergency plan; but if you have access to a dry powder extinguisher or a wet rag, and you feel it is safe to do so, you can try your best to put the fire out. You should also double check and make sure that all other possible ignition sources are extinguished. But if the fire has already spread to other equipment, or if it is near a gas cylinder, then you should enact your emergency action plan right away.

There are however some occupations that require employees to put themselves in an environment with a much greater prevalence of toxic, flammable or combustible gas than you’ll find in a typical factory. Though we may understand the causes of these gases better today, knowing how serious of a threat they pose certainly isn’t something new. Miners have sought to protect themselves against poisonous gases released in the bowels of the earth for hundreds of years. Canaries were brought down into coal mines as early as the 19th century to serve as living gas detectors. When they stopped singing or keeled over, you knew it was time to get up to the surface and breathe some air that wasn’t killing songbirds.

Though we no longer depend on birds to warn us about poisonous air, by the end of the 20th century our methods for detecting poisonous gases still weren’t the best at sounding an alarm. When it became well known that carbon monoxide poisoning was a danger to public health in the early 1980s and 1990s, special chemically soaked paper that turned brown when exposed to carbon monoxide was used to warn people of the present danger.

Current Gas Monitors

Today we have electronic gas detectors that do a much better job of warning people that air is not suitable to breathe. Today’s gas monitors are usually defined by their operating mechanism. Some use semiconductors, some oxidation, others catalytic or infrared sensors to detect toxic gases.

No matter the mechanism, all gas monitors have to be calibrated on a schedule. Some need to be calibrated four times a year, while others only require one calibration a year to be sure that they are functioning properly. Sometimes, OSHA sets up the calibration schedule, while more vigilant companies will do so more frequently than required.

Besides calibration, gas monitors are also kept up to standards by performing something known as a challenge or bump test. This test exposes the monitor to a known concentration of gas to check to see if the detector will respond with the appropriate visual and sound alarms. These tests are especially essential because 1 in every 2500 monitors will fail to respond to a life-threatening level of poisonous gas. For this reason, many big companies choose to create automated test stations to test and calibrate their gas monitors daily.

Fixed Monitors

Monitors can generally be divided into two groups: fixed and wireless gas monitors. Fixed monitors are usually mounted near a danger-zone in something like a production plant or control room. They are installed typically on mild steel structures and depend on cables to connect them to a warning system. They also have the advantage of having a continuous power source, making them ideal for installation in a place like a factory floor.

Wireless Gas Monitors

Wireless gas monitors are newer technology. While they don’t benefit from a continuous power source like their fixed counterparts, they do have some advantages of their own. First and foremost among these advantages is the wireless’s capacity for durability in unsafe environments. Consider for a moment, a typical scenario in which there is a poisonous gas leak.

It’s entirely possible that the leak has been caused by a separate accident that could have knocked the fixed system offline. In this case, first responders won’t have the benefit of real time updates from a fixed system, but if they’re carrying wireless gas protection, this is not a problem.

Wireless gas monitors are ideal in these emergency situations, because they grant those leading rescue operations the capability to receive alarm readings from their workers as they happen, no matter where they are. This instant, precise alert can shave precious minutes off of response time and be the difference between a disaster and a successful evacuation.

What’s more, the price of a wireless gas monitoring system is relatively low because of how easy they are to install. Since they are designed to be used in all types of environments on short notice, a wireless gas monitoring system can be set up relatively quickly, without drilling any holes or dealing with any wires.

The same difference in ease of use holds true for repairing your gas monitoring system as well. No one individual unit will bring down an entire wireless gas monitoring system. With wireless monitors, all you have to do is switch the problematic unit out. You won’t have to worry about experiencing any down time.

Building Your Own Wireless Gas Monitoring System

Since it is apparent that wireless gas monitors are excellent tools to have on hand in emergency situations, you may be wondering what you have to do in order to get your own wireless gas monitoring system up and running. Let’s take a look at a few of the products you’ll need to be sure you’re making the right choice for your employees’ health and your company’s wallet:

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EchoView Host Mini-Controller

This device serves as the centerpiece of a RAE wireless gas monitoring system. Basically, it works as the hub for all the other gas monitors in your system. It collects and coordinates all the data from the other gas monitors so you can see exactly what is going on.

It creates a closed-loop network that has a range of around 330 feet, which should be plenty for most work zones. With the 1.3 lb. mini-controller in hand, if something goes wrong, you can show responders reliable information about where the danger zones are, while giving everyone else the same amount of accurate information. And if you’ve ever been in an emergency situation, then you know how crucial and difficult it can be to get everyone inside and outside of the action on the same page.

As is to be expected for something built to be used in emergencies, the mini-controller is built tough. If conditions aren’t ideal—as they frequently are not when you’re in an emergency situation—you won’t have to worry about the mini-controller going dead on you because it got splashed with a little water. It has an IP-65 rating for water and dust resistance, and it can function in temperatures ranging from -4 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity ratings up to 90%. If you’re wearing a hazmat suit or otherwise encumbered by bulky safety gloves, the mini-controller features an easy to use three-button operation.

If the lights are out, you’ll still know what’s happening with your employees because the mini-controller has a backlit LCD screen. Emergencies will be apparent even in lowlight and noisy surroundings thanks to the mini-controller’s two-tiered alarm system. Anytime a monitoring device in your network detects unsafe levels, the mini-controller sounds a buzzer you couldn’t miss if you tried, along with some flashing red lights you’ll definitely be able to see no matter how light or dark it may be.

While it’s true that with a fixed system you don’t have to worry about running out of power, it isn’t like you’re going to be racing for a wall outlet every half hour to use the mini-controller. It has a ten day battery life, so the chances are very low that it would run out of juice when you need it the most, especially since you can replace the lithium ion battery in the field with a fresh one.

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RAELink3 Mesh Modem

If the mini-controller’s 330 foot range is too small for your needs, then you should look into the RAELink 3 Mesh Modem kit. Essentially, the Mesh expands all of the capabilities of the mini-controller. It increases its range from 330 feet to up to .6 miles, and can link to other modems up to 2 miles away. What’s more, it can add 64 gas remote detection devices to your system, while having the same ease of use as the mini-controller.

The RAELink 3 Mesh Wireless Modem will help you and your team receive accurate, real-time updates when dealing with fire overhauls, chemicals, biological, nuclear defense, and search and rescue operations. It connects to a remote PC, which acts as the mobile command center. The device is built to last in harsh environments with an IP-65-rated case to protect it from dust, water and impact.

When first responders show up with their system of walkie-talkies or if you already have a similar system of your own in the workplace, you don’t have to worry about anything interrupting the RAELink3's signal. It has a very high resistance to electromagnetic and radio interference.

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MultiRAE Multi-Threat Wireless Monitor

The above two products help you manage and create your wireless network, but the MultiRAE is one example of the kind of wireless gas monitor that actually makes up the network. The MultiRAE, as the name suggests, is built to sense a variety of gases that have an adverse effect on the immediate atmosphere. It is sensitive to volatile organic compounds, electrochemical gases, NDIR, carbon dioxide and oxygen depletion along with many other flammable or toxic gases.

This wireless monitor is a long way from some paper turning brown. It automatically orients the screen to whichever way you hold it to provide for easy instrument reading. If it does detect something, it alerts all units on your network of the cause and location of the alarm. It also is built to withstand serious conditions.

It meets the military performance standard MIL-STD-810F, meaning it will keep working through essentially any kind of shock, drop or weather damage. Plus, its LCD display has a concussion proof casing that is dust and water repellent. Essentially, it’s the perfect blend of precision and durability you want in a wireless gas monitor.

Be Smart, Be Safe

Though everyone hopes poisonous gases never find their way to their factory floors, certain occupations are all about going into zones with a more volatile atmosphere. For these jobs, it just makes sense to have a wireless gas protection on hand. Canaries were wireless too, but they didn’t have the ability to alert everyone in a half mile radius of impending danger like today’s slightly more sophisticated gas monitoring devices do. Until we discover a bird that can provide a real time, clear idea of the nature of a hazardous situation, it’s probably best to stick with a wireless gas monitoring system.