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Published on 22/07/2022

Key points to remember when using a portable gas detector

Portable gas detectors are amongst a variety of trusted safety essentials found on board any sea-going vessel.

Potentially life-threatening and toxic gases can often be present on a variety of vessels – so protecting crew members from the risk of leaks is paramount. Even when all necessary protective action is taken, leaks can still occur and a rapid response is vital in order to save lives and prevent injuries.  

Alongside fixed gas detection units, portable gas detectors provide a watertight layer of wearable protection, ensuring individuals are alerted to gas leaks and remain safe at all times wherever they may be on board.

Although this innovative technology is dependable and provides peace of mind, there are some key points to be aware of in order to ensure they are working properly and can be relied upon in the event of a gas leak. Read on to learn the four key points you should consider when using portable gas detectors to keep them in good working condition and fully compliant with SOLAS and COSHH guidelines.

1. Select the correct portable gas detector model for the job

Not all portable gas detectors are created equal. Not only are there various different levels in terms of quality and durability (more on that in a moment), there are also different types of gas detectors to be aware of.

Failing to select a reliable model that can withstand the elements thrown at it during the course of each working day at sea is crucial. Certain detectors are designed with specific protective features, like water and dust proofing.

When selecting a portable gas detector, first consider the type of usage and gases it will be required to detect. Individual gas detectors can detect between one and seven gases – each model is tailored to different applications and gases. A full risk assessment of the working area should be carried out to identify all potential hazards initially – when working to prevent the risks associated with toxic gases extra time and care should be taken to ensure that the correct portable gas detectors have been specified.

Your list when making a selection should include the full capabilities of the gas detector, including a full list of gases it can detect and any contaminants that may affect the effectiveness of sensors you’ll need to be aware of.

Secondly, consider where the gas detector will be used and the amount of wear and wear it might need to withstand in order to remain fully functional. Temperature, pressure levels and humidity can all impact upon the function of a portable gas detector.

2. Ensure your gas detector is securely and sensibly positioned

Portable gas detectors are designed to be worn on your person – but did you know that placement is incredibly important – so much so that it can affect the functionality and efficiency of a gas detector?

It’s not uncommon to see portable gas detectors affixed to belts – but that’s actually one of the worst places for them. Gas detectors primarily protect users against gases and respiratory toxins, the best place for your portable gas detector is as close as possible to the main entry points for toxins to enter the body – the nose and mouth.

From a practical perspective positioning a portable gas detector as close to the face as possible is the most sensible option – but this also ensures you’re protected against a wide variety of potentially toxic gases, which all behave differently. Gases like methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide are all lighter than air, so they quickly rise and accumulate at higher points. Conversely gases like hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide are heavier, so they generally pool at lower levels in the event of a leak.  

Bear in mind that ensuring your portable gas detector remains uncovered at all times is also key. Keeping a portable gas detector buried beneath a thick coat or fleece or in your pocket can impair its ability to detect gas levels in the air but could also prevent users from hearing and seeing visual and audible alarms, especially in hectic, noisy environments.

3. Calibrate properly and keep up to date on maintenance

Alongside regular professional maintenance proper initial set-up is also key – portable gas detectors need to be calibrated to detect certain gases at specific levels. Calibration tests for accuracy (which bump tests do not), but it also involves full inspection and professional servicing by a specialist.

Calibration intervals vary depending on which type of gas detector model you choose, but most guidelines suggest 6 months at least.

Even when sourcing the most robust safety equipment, regular and thorough maintenance is key to keep it in good working order. Ensure that during calibration your portable gas detectors are properly serviced and checked by a professional is key. Certification should be provided after each service to ensure you remain compliant with current regulations and health and safety guidelines.

4. Bump test regularly

To remain effective, gas detectors need to be regularly bump tested. During a bump test, the detector is exposed to a controlled concentration of gas that’s higher than the alarm set points in order to test its responsivity. This checks that the sensor properly responds to the gas, including the alarm and display systems. Bump tests are the most reliable way to ensure that your portable gas detector is functioning properly.

Bump tests as a rule should be performed each day before every use (in accordance with OSHA guidelines), ensuring that your crew members are fully protected as they go to work. Some workplaces stipulate that bump tests are performed prior to each portion of a shift each time staff enter potentially hazardous working areas – such as after breaks. This ensures that no damage or contaminants affecting the efficacy of the gas detectors can occur in between tests.

Trust Martek Marine for specialist portable and fixed gas detection solutions, each one IP67 rated and MED-approved. For tailored support and advice on choosing portable gas detectors, get in touch with our expert team today.