The laboratory can be a dangerous place. From trip hazards, flammable materials and even biohazards. Furthermore, there are many aspects of risk minimisation that need to be considered to create a workplace that is both safe and compliant with health and safety legislation. One particular hazard that is common to many types of laboratory, from the life sciences, chemistry departments to physics research, is the hazards posed by gases.
Gases can be a chemical hazard in themselves, in the case of substances like chlorine1 and nitrogen oxides2, which are corrosive and toxic. To ensure compliance with COSHH regulations check occupational exposure levels in HSE document EH40 or the supplied MSDS. Even seemingly innocuous gases, like Nitrogen and argon which are famous for being chemically inert, can instead pose asphyxiation risks if leaks occur in poorly ventilated places. ACOPs published by bodies such as the British Compressed Gases Association should be consulted.
The other major category of risk posed by gas used in laboratories is the explosion/flammability risk. Gases are typically stored in pressurised cylinders, and improper handling can lead to cylinder damage with sudden pressure discharge and explosions.3 Any small spark from electrical equipment like vacuum gauges or hot surfaces such as lab hot plates can be sufficient to trigger a fire. Remember also that an Oxygen leak causing localised Oxygen enrichment will multiply the flammability risk many times over.
These combined risks mean that is very important to be vigilant for gas leaks. In a laboratory setting, this will involve the installation and maintenance of appropriate gas sensors, monitor and alarms to detect and warn of leaks. As well as audible and visual alarms. Multiple alarm types cater for differing user needs. A hearing impaired occupant may need to rely on visual alarms. Networked solutions, sometimes termed addressable systems allow multiple devices as detectors, audible visual alarms and shutdown interlocks to be efficiently installed, minimising cabling. At the same time these systems provide continuous integrity checks, quickly alerting to any faults which may go hidden on older analogue type systems.
Two commonly used gases that pose their own detection and safety challenges are oxygen and carbon dioxide. Both gases have been classed as ‘substances hazardous to health’ since 2002 in Great Britain.4 This means that there are recommended workspace exposure limits for both short and long term exposure and, in order to ensure worker safety and compliance with exposure limits, the installation of gas monitors is strongly recommended.5 If you are not monitoring the environment for leaks then you will struggle to show compliance to COSHH requirements. Furthermore, HSE document EH40 not only lists occupational exposure levels but also the required calculations to determine how long post exposure a person must recover in ‘clean’ air.
Many people wrongly assume the main risk of carbon dioxide exposure is asphyxiation. People mistakenly believe that, in settings where carbon dioxide and oxygen monitoring are both required, an oxygen depletion monitor is sufficient to cover both gases. However, doing this is in violation of the safety standard BS EN 60079-29-2:20156, which specifically states that “where carbon dioxide levels need to be monitored for safety reasons, a dedicated CO2 detector must be used”. This is because it is possible to exceed safe CO2 exposure limits still with sufficient oxygen concentrations that an oxygen depletion sensor would not trigger a warning.
For practical solutions to monitoring, International Gas Detector’s networked monitors are an attractive and simple solution that cuts down installation costs by 70% compared to the industry standard. As well as providing dedicated gas monitors, they also offer maintenance and calibration services to ensure the best possible accuracy and reliability of monitors.7
Two Core Cable Solutions
Founded in 1917, International Gas Detectors bring 100 years of experience to the design of networked gas and safety systems. Many of the gas detectors are based upon the 2-Wire safe area addressable gas detection system that can detect over 400 different gases.8 This system has a unique design that makes it quick and easy to install and can then be used for a continuous gas level monitoring.
These devices utilise addressable technology, which means they can be integrated with additional detectors or networked equipment. This includes devices such as International Gas Detector’s Room Status Indicators9 that can be installed outside the laboratory and have a visual display showing gas concentrations inside the lab and whether or not it is safe to enter. A single status indicator can display the output from up to 8 other detectors and devices.
The two-wire design for these devices means they have one two core cable for both power and communication. Minimal cabling but offering maximum flexibility as the detectors themselves also have interface points built in for other devices (giving them 80% more capability per detector than current standards). These can include call points, analogue signals, relay interlocks and more. It also reduces the risk of wiring mistakes as the 2 core cable connection has no specific polarity requirement. Multiple detector monitoring, alarm and interlock solutions can be quickly and efficiently configured. This makes the system especially desirable where it is recommended to have multiple detectors at different heights in the laboratory with audible visual warnings, gas interlocks and secondary monitoring.
The possibilities of devices that can be integrated with the 2-wire detectors are endless. As audible-only alarms may not provide sufficient warning (e.g. in environments where ear protection is required), the detectors can also be integrated with International Gas Detector’s visual alarms10 to create safe working areas.
The oxygen detectors offered by International Gas Detectors also boast improved product lifetimes. Industry standard lifetimes for Oxygen sensors may only be 2 years. Due to IGD’s use of new technologies their Oxygen sensors last over five years. Being based on new reliable solid polymer technologies. Added benefits are enhanced reliability and accuracy ensuring freedom from false alarms. Each detector on the system can have its own individual alarms, up to 3 alarm points within its measured range. With this flexibility it is possible to create networked pre-alarms and main safety alarms.
These can be mapped to output devices that can warn of developing hazards as they evolve, rather than just sounding when situations have reached a critical point. Using modern digital systems multiple controllers in an installation can network back to a main display panel (HMI). This main panel not only provides a main system overview but can also data log and provide up to the minute information over the internet. This makes data not only available on site but to anyone with an internet connection on any device type, phone, tablet or PC. Connectivity available 24 hours a day to operators, administrators, service and support people.
The flexibility of International Gas Detector’s devices and the significantly reduced installation costs mean it is easy and affordable to create reliable, custom safety solutions in any working environment from standard building blocks. With post-sales maintenance support and training opportunities for end users, either online or in-person, International Gas Detectors can help ensure a safe workplace for all.
For more information
To find out more about our Gas Products: contact Paul Fahy
email firstname.lastname@example.org call +353526122722
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