Without useful data, there is no way to screen gas detection issues that are happening in the field, securely record them, and then prescribe ways to fix them.

Preventive Safety

After arming a worker with a gas detector, how do you know the instrument is working as it should? How do you know whether the worker is using it at all?

Each year, Americans spend more than any other industrialized country on health care expenses – an estimated $2 trillion1. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of some chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, are preventable.

With this, some might say a movement in preventive medicine has emerged. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and having a well-balanced diet, Americans are proactively taking control of their health and doing more to prevent diseases, rather than curing them or treating their symptoms.

Why the health lesson, you ask? Maintaining your gas detection program is much like maintaining your health. However, in recent years, one can argue that the evolution of our gas detection programs lags that of our overall health and the steps we take to improve it.

To ensure good health, we intuitively look for signs of poor health. We go to a doctor who conducts a checkup to ensure everything is working properly; we undergo testing to produce the data that reveal those things that are working improperly. If we see any symptom of poor health, we are prescribed ways to eradicate it in order to prevent illness or disease from ensuing. Sometimes, we even require replacement parts so that small malfunctions do not result in larger problems, such as chronic diseases. When a person's heart arteries are blocked, for example, he or she may undergo surgery to fix the issue and prevent future problems.

All things considered, a healthy gas detection program requires many of the same things our personal health requires: checkups to ensure everything is working properly; testing to produce the data that reveals the things that are working improperly; and sometimes even replacement parts so that small malfunctions, such as bad sensors, do not result in larger problems, such as an on-the-job injury or fatality.

If any leading indicator or sign of poor health within a gas detection program surfaces, companies with strong safety cultures will work to identify the issues to ensure those symptoms do not result in injury or death. Some do not, however.

As with chronic diseases, many workplace injuries are preventable. In fact, most workplace injuries are preventable, with only about 4 percent of all work-related accidents caused by technical issues such as faulty equipment.2

So if we try regularly to predict poor health and sickness within our personal lives, then why do we not try to do it in the workplace?

Let's review the challenges faced in gas detection programs.

Diagnosing the Problems
In many cases, the challenges that are specific to gas detection remain consistent. As burdensome as a Monday evening workout is the maintenance of the life-saving instruments. Ignoring these tedious yet critical tasks often leads to decreased efficiency, as well as high and unpredictable costs. Moreover, as demands for increased productivity in shorter timeframes continually rise in nearly every industry, it has become almost unacceptable to have an unusable, "unhealthy" gas detector that awaits the necessary treatment.

Additionally, management often struggles to find clear visibility into the field. Without useful data, there is no way to screen gas detection issues that are happening in the field, securely record them, and then prescribe ways to fix them.

After arming a worker with a gas detector, how do you know the instrument is working as it should? How do you know whether the worker is using it in the way he or she is supposed to? How do you know whether the worker is using it at all? In the end, you simply do not know what you do not know.

Though choosing to use a gas detector is a wise choice when entering potentially hazardous atmospheres, there are several life-threatening mistakes an operator can still make. A data analysis conducted by Raghu Arunachalam, Ph.D., director of Emerging Technologies for Industrial Scientific, shows the potential results of not operating an instrument correctly.

Out of 27,000 gas detectors used in more than 1,100 end-user locations, 8 percent of all instruments were turned off while in alarm. Another finding was that out of every 1,000 instruments bump tested, three failed the test. In other words, if the operator does not bump test the instrument, there is a 0.3 percent chance it will fail in the field.

Although it is an end user's responsibility to complete life-saving tasks such as bump testing and calibrating, what happens when they don't do these things?

Using Gas Detection as a Service
Understanding the potential consequences of these issues allows end users to understand how valuable gas detection as a service can be. Just as a medical website provides helpful tools such as fitness planners, diet evaluators, and calorie calculators, gas detection as a service provides end users of gas detection with the tools needed to fix problems before they happen. It collects, analyzes, and simplifies useful data, providing the ultimate visibility into the program.

Gas detection as a service automates time-consuming maintenance tasks, such as bump testing, calibration, recordkeeping, and recharging. It removes these tasks from the end user's responsibility and enables the safety team to be more productive and focused on revenue-generating activities. As a result, gas detectors are nearly always in top working condition and ready to protect workers in potentially hazardous environments.

With automated bump testing, an end user can be sure the gas detector will respond to a hazardous condition by exposing it to a known concentration of hazardous gas. This verifies that the sensor(s) and alarms respond correctly. Additionally, calibrating monitors maintains sensor accuracy because temperature, exposure to gas, humidity, and age are known to affect sensors.

Awareness is growing about the benefits of gas detection as a service and how it can promote a healthier, safer workplace. End users have come to expect things that come with the solution, such as automated maintenance. Instead of sending an instrument away for calibration, the task can be regularly performed on site to ensure a complete, operational fleet at all times.

An Ounce of Prevention
According to our company's vision, a workplace safety "cure" will be realized only when death on the job is completely eliminated in this century. It is not enough even to arm every worker in hazardous atmospheres with a gas detector. When safety professionals use data in addition to reliable instruments, they gain the insight needed to predict where injuries are likely to occur and then can prevent them.

For example, if a safety manager reviews a data chart and sees an alarm was turned off, he or she can take the necessary corrective action with the employee. In the same way, a safety manager can be sure that a bump test was performed before an employee began his or her shift.

With gas detection as a service, data can be sent to a web-based dashboard from a docking station. This dashboard can show trends within a gas detection program. Future technology will provide even more data analysis flexibility with no software or hardware installations, as well as the ability to manage and view the performance of an entire fleet of gas detectors from any web browser-enabled PC.

With the many capabilities and technologies available, why not predict and prevent injuries in the workplace, just as we do when it comes to our personal health? What's stopping you from using preventive safety? Write your gas detection program the prescription it needs today.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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