A Week in the Life of a Portable Gas Monitor
It's rough on the front lines. If they listened to what these devices have to say, safety pros would learn a lot.
- By Dave D. Wagner
- May 01, 2009
Monday, 7:32 a.m.
Here comes Pete. It looks like
he'll be carrying me today. I'm
the portable four-gas detector
that Pete will use to monitor the air. I'll
make sure he doesn't walk into a situation
that puts him in danger of being caught in
an explosion or being overcome by poisonous
gases. It's a pretty important job. I'm
in the business of saving lives, and I take it
very seriously. If only everyone would treat
me like what I do is that critical.
OUCH! Easy, big guy. You don't have
to toss me down on the bench like that.
It's not my fault that my battery is not
charged. The guy that carried me last Friday
was in such a hurry to go home. He
just brought me back to the tool room and
left me lying here without connecting me
to my battery charger.
My new lithium-ion batteries are not
like the old battery technologies that used
to run my parents and grandparents. My
battery charger is better, too. I can be left
on charge continuously without being
damaged at all. So I don't understand why
they won't put me on my charger and just
let me go to sleep there.
Oh, well, it looks like an easy day for
me today while I get recharged. I hope
Pete grabs another detector and doesn't
try to work without one.
Tuesday, 11:14 a.m.
It's been another easy day so far. I've been
up and ready to go since 6:30 this morning.
That's when my daily bump test started.
A bump test is essential to the start
of a safe day—every day. When someone
remembers to put me on my docking station
at night before leaving, it automatically
wakes me up and bump tests me first
thing the next morning. That means that I
am ready to roll when the day's work gets
started. I really wish they would remember
to do it every day.
The engineers that designed me have
studied more than 30,000 gas monitors
very similar to me. They have found that
for every day that I am
not bump tested, there
is a 1 in 250 chance I will
fail and not be able to respond
I'm actually feeling
very confident today. I
had my sensors changed
last week. Rusty, one of
the guys who don't treat
me very well, dropped
me from a ladder while
he was climbing the side
of a tank. I like to call
him Rusty Roughneck.
Something bad always
happens when I work
with him. I bounced off three rungs of the
ladder and fell face down in the mud. My
sensor membranes were clogged and my
hydrogen sulfide sensor was broken.
They knew about it only because I
couldn't sniff the gas when they bump
tested me the next morning. That's the
first test I've failed in months. But how
was anyone going to know I was broken
if they didn't check? As usual, Rusty didn't
tell anyone what he did to me.
Wednesday 8:15 a.m.
Today, we are doing confined space entries,
and I will be working with Sam. He
usually takes pretty good care of me. He
knows to verify that I am bump tested
before he takes me out. After he turns me
on, he always makes sure I am zeroed and
clears my peaks.
They're going to clean the inside of a
big tank today, and I'm going to sniff it out
for Sam before anyone goes inside. This is
a really big tank, and I will have to check it
all the way down, almost 50 feet, to make
sure it is safe. That's because some of the
gases might be heavier than air and sink to
the bottom of the tank.
Oh, no! Sam is getting out the rope.
That means he forgot to bring my sampling
pump. Now, he's going to lower me
down into the tank and let me swing back
and forth. I'll probably spin around 'til I get
dizzy. I hate when this happens. He'd better
be careful. I hope he doesn't let me slip
down too far. I don't want to slosh around
in all that liquid at the bottom of the tank.
Whew! I'm glad that's over. It worked out
OK. The tank is all clear. It might not end up
so well for the next sniffer, though. I'm done
here for today, and we're off to check one
more space before we call it a day.
Thursday, 9 a.m.
Today is the last day of the month, which
means it's calibration day. Calibration day
is the day we're all brought into the lab and the technician puts us on the docking
station for our monthly tune-up. We get
cleaned up, and the automatic calibration
adjustment ensures we are performing
and reading accurately.
At least once a month, it is important
that we get a little deeper check-up than just
our daily bump test. I was just calibrated
last week when my sensors were replaced.
But it's a good idea to do it again just to
make sure I stay on a regular schedule.
It is also a good day to be calibrated
because, after lunch, Clarence, the company
industrial hygienist, is going to let
me hang out in the plant in an area where
some workers have been complaining
about feeling sick in the afternoon. He'll
come get me at the end of the day and then
check the readings that I have stored in my
memory to see if he can find out what, if
anything, is making them sick.
I can store a lot of data in my memory
and tell a lot of stories if anyone wants to
take the time to listen to what I have to say.
Last month, there was a day that I was carried
into alarm four times. We were really
lucky that day. One time, someone even
turned me off when my alarm was sounding
just because they didn't want to listen
to me scream any more.
Anyone could see that these things
happen if they took the time to look into
my memory. But they almost never do unless
there is an accident. They might even
be able to fix the problem that is causing
me to alarm before someone gets hurt.
Friday, 7:48 a.m.
I am bump tested this morning and ready
to go work because I am spending the day
with Pete again. He is taking me into the
plant to do hot work. Oh, don't worry;
it's not as bad as it sounds. But it can be
dangerous. Pete will count on me to determine
there is no combustible gas in areas
where other workers are going to be cutting
or welding. Once I say the air is clear,
Pete will sign a hot-work permit, and the
others will be able to light their torches or
strike a welding arc.
Uh-oh, it looks like we are getting
here a little late for this job. An overzealous
contractor employee is already cutting
that pipe. Yikes! There goes my alarm.
We're starting to get close, and my combustible
gas sensor reading is at 40 . . . 50 . .
. 60 percent LEL and still climbing. Someone
needs to shut that torch off and get
everyone out of here quick!
It's four hours later now. All, including
me, have had a chance to catch their
breath and regain their composure amid
the confusion. Pete is going to take me
back inside just one last time to make sure
the air is clear before the fire trucks go
home and everyone goes back inside. If I
hadn't been here today, it could have been
a real catastrophe.
That's it. Everyone is safe now. Pete is
going to take me back to the tool room
and put me back on my docking station
before he goes home for the night. I'll be
able go to sleep and rest easy this weekend,
knowing that I did my job. I saved a
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.