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Trends in ... Instruments and monitors

May 1, 2011

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A significant responsibility

By Tracy Haas, editorial assistant

Instruments and monitors protect workers against a number of work-related hazards. They can detect unsafe sound levels, allowing employers to determine the proper amount of hearing protection needed for their workers. They can test the air workers breathe to measure whether it is safe, or if respiratory equipment is needed. They also can detect potentially deadly dangers, such as toxic gases. They warn employees of the possibility of a gas explosion or exposure, and can shut down systems to prevent a catastrophe.

Because of the importance of these devices, Rick Wanek, industry market manager of portable instruments at Pittsburgh-based Draeger Safety Inc., has some very specific advice to follow: “Do not skip simple and critical safety checks, such as visual inspection, watching the boot-up sequence to verify the monitor is set up properly for the day’s work and, of course, always perform a functional test before any safety-critical use of a gas detector.”

While this sounds very straightforward, Andrew Saunders, an applications and training specialist for Morristown, NJ-based Honeywell, asserts that “one in five, or 20 percent, of end users of gas detection fail to use them properly, if at all.”

To counteract non- or misuse, the unit “must be designed to be simple to operate and must be able to perform under all kinds of severe industrial conditions,” Saunders said. He points to new technologies that help with this. “One exciting development is the use of visual compliance monitoring,” he said. “A flashing green light on the monitor confirms that the sensor has been properly calibrated or bump-tested. This light flashes every few seconds, or as long as the user is wearing the instrument. So the user, the safety manager and the site boss all know that the unit is safe or fit for field use.”

Still, Wanek knows mistakes can have real consequences. “A more dangerous assumption is that displacement of oxygen can substitute for use of an appropriate toxic gas sensor. This is almost never true since most toxic gases are harmful at levels that would never result in enough displacement of oxygen to cause an alarm before injury or death could result,” he said.

Despite new technology, problems  still exist. “Users need to also look harder at the total cost of a gas detection program and not the upfront purchase,” Wanek advised. “And the trend to outsource safety management must be watched carefully so that it doesn’t lead to less ownership of the company safety program and a diminishing of the safety culture that has been established over the past 20 years,” he added.

Saunders believes better wireless technology and GPS tracking capabilities can help make safety a more attainable goal. “Knowing where your operators or high-value assets are located at any given time will improve overall productivity, safety and time management. When this location-based history can be combined with a real-time shared communication of each operator’s personal exposure to any hazardous gases in their local vicinity, then the productivity and safety gains become very significant to the asset owner,” he said.

Coming next month…
Hearing protection

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