The importance of gas detection in the Petrochemical Industry

Closely linked to oil and gas, the petrochemicals industry takes raw materials from refining and gas processing and, through chemical process technologies, converts them into valuable products. In this sector, the organic chemicals produced in the largest volumes are methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene and xylenes (BTX). These chemicals are the building blocks of many consumer goods including plastics, clothing fabric, construction materials, synthetic detergents and agrichemical products.

Potential Hazards

Exposure to potential hazardous substances is more likely to occur during shutdown or maintenance work as these are a deviation from the refinery’s routine operations. As these deviations are out of normal routine, care should be exercised at all times to avoid the inhalation of solvent vapours, toxic gases, and other respiratory contaminants. The assistance of constant automated monitoring is helpful in determining the presence of solvents or gases, allowing their associated risks to be mitigated. This includes warning systems such as gas and flame detectors, supported by emergency procedures, and permit systems for any kind of potentially dangerous work.

The petroleum industry is split into upstream, midstream and downstream and these are defined by the nature of the work that takes place in each area. Upstream work is typically known as the exploration and production (E&P) sector. Midstream refers to the transportation of products through pipelines, transit and oil tankers as well as the wholesale marketing of petroleum-based products. The downstream sector refers to the refining of petroleum crude oil, the processing of raw natural gas and the marketing and distribution of finished products.

Upstream

Fixed and portable gas detectors are needed to protect plant and personnel from the risks of flammable gas releases (commonly methane) as well as from high levels of H2S, particularly from sour wells. Gas detectors for O2 depletion, SO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are required items of personal protection equipment (PPE), which is usually highly visible colour and worn near breathing space. Sometimes HF solution is used as a scouring agent. Key requirements for gas detectors are rugged and reliable design and long battery life. Models with design elements that support easy fleet management and compliance obviously have an advantage. You can read about VOC risk and Crowcon’s solution in our case study.

Midstream

Fixed monitoring of flammable gases situated close to pressure relief devices, filling and emptying areas is necessary to deliver early warning of localised leaks. Multi-gas portable monitors must be used to maintain personal safety, especially during work in confined spaces and supporting hot work permit area testing. Infrared technology in flammable gas detection supports purging with the ability to operate in inert atmospheres and delivers reliable detection in areas where pellistor type detectors would fail, due to poisoning or volume level exposure. You can read more on how infrared detection works in our blog and read our case study of infrared monitoring in refinery settings in Southeast Asia.

Portable laser methane detection (LMm) allows users to pin-point leaks at distance and in hard-to-reach areas, reducing the need for personnel to enter potentially dangerous environments or situations while performing routine or investigative leak monitoring. Using LMm is a quick and effective way to check areas for methane with a reflector, from up to 100m away. These areas include closed buildings, confined spaces and other difficult-to-reach areas such as above-ground pipelines that are near water or behind fences.

Downstream

In downstream refining, the gas risks may be almost any hydrocarbon, and may also include hydrogen sulphide, sulphur dioxide and other by-products. Catalytic flammable gas detectors are one of the oldest flammable gas detector types. They work well, but must have a bump testing station, to ensure each detector responds to the target gas and is still functional. The ongoing demand to reduce facility down-time whilst ensuring safety, especially during shutdown and turnaround operations, means that gas detection manufacturers must deliver solutions offering ease of use, straightforward training and reduced maintenance times, along with local service and support.

During plant shutdowns, processes are stopped, items of equipment are opened and checked and the number of people and moving vehicles at the site is many times higher than normal. Many of the processes undertaken will be hazardous and require specific gas monitoring. For example, welding and tank cleaning activities require area monitors as well as personal monitors to protect those on site.

Confined space

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is a potential problem in the transport and storage of crude oil. The cleaning of storage tanks presents a high hazard potential. Many confined-space entry problems can occur here, including oxygen deficiency resulting from previous inerting procedures, rusting, and oxidation of organic coatings. Inerting is the process of reducing the oxygen levels in a cargo tank to remove the oxygen element required for ignition. Carbon monoxide can be present in the inerting gas. In addition to H2S, depending on the characteristics of the product previously stored in the tanks, other chemicals that may be encountered include metal carbonyls, arsenic, and tetraethyl lead.

Our Solutions

Elimination of these gas hazards is virtually impossible, so permanent workers and contractors must depend on reliable gas detection equipment to protect them. Gas detection can be provided in both fixed and portable forms. Our portable gas detectors protect against a wide range of gas hazards, these include Clip SGD, Gasman, Tetra 3,Gas-Pro, T4, Gas-Pro TK and Detective+. Our fixed gas detectors are used in many applications where reliability, dependability and lack of false alarms are instrumental to efficient and effective gas detection, these include Xgard, Xgard Bright, Fgard IR3 Flame Detector and IRmax. Combined with a variety of our fixed detectors, our gas detection control panels offer a flexible range of solutions that measure flammable, toxic and oxygen gases, report their presence and activate alarms or associated equipment, for the petrochemical industry our panels include Addressable Controllers, Vortex and Gasmonitor.

To find out more on the gas hazards in the petrochemical industry visit our industry page for more information.

The importance of gas detection in the Medical and Healthcare sector

The need for gas detection in the medical and healthcare sector may be less widely understood outside of the industry, but the requirement is there, nonetheless. With patients across a number of settings receiving a variety of treatment and medical therapies that involve the usage of chemicals, the need to accurately monitor the gases utilised or emitted, within this process is very important to allow for their continued safe treatment. In order to safeguard both patients and, of course, the healthcare professionals themselves, the implementation of accurate and reliable monitoring equipment is a must.

Applications

In healthcare and hospital settings, a range of potentially hazardous gases can present themselves due to the medical equipment and apparatus utilised. Harmful chemicals are also used for disinfectant and cleansing purposes within hospital work surfaces and medical supplies. For example, potentially hazardous chemicals can be used as a preservative for tissue specimens, such as toluene, xylene or formaldehyde. Applications include:

  • Breath gas monitoring
  • Chiller rooms
  • Generators
  • Laboratories
  • Storage rooms
  • Operating theatres
  • Pre-hospital rescue
  • Positive airway pressure therapy
  • High flow nasal cannula therapy
  • Intensive care units
  • Post anaesthesia care unit

Gaz Hazards

Oxygen Enrichment in Hospital Wards

In light of the worldwide pandemic, COVID-19, the need for increased oxygen on hospital wards has been recognised by healthcare professionals due to the escalating number of ventilators in use. Oxygen sensors are vital, within ICU wards specifically, as they inform the clinician how much oxygen is being delivered to the patient during ventilation. This can prevent the risk of hypoxia, hypoxemia or oxygen toxicity. If oxygen sensors do not function as they should; they can alarm regularly, need changing and unfortunately even lead to fatalities. This increased use of ventilators also enriches the air with oxygen and can raise the combustion risk. There is a need to measure the levels of oxygen in the air using a fixed gas detection system to avoid unsafe levels in the air.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide level monitoring is also required in healthcare environments to ensure a safe working environment for professionals, as well as to safeguard patients being treated. Carbon dioxide is used within a plethora of medical and healthcare procedures from minimally invasive surgeries, such as endoscopy, arthroscopy and laparoscopy, cryotherapy and anaesthesia. CO2 is also used in incubators and laboratories and, as it is a toxic gas, can cause asphyxiation. Heightened levels of CO2 in the air, emitted by certain machinery, can cause harm to those in the environment, as well as spread pathogens and viruses. CO2 detectors in healthcare environments can therefore improve ventilation, air flow and the wellbeing of all.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

A range of VOCs can be found in hospital and healthcare environments and cause harm to those working and being treated within it. VOCs such as aliphatic, aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons, aldehydes, alcohols, ketones, ethers and terpenes, to name a few, have been measured in hospital environments, originating from a number of specific areas including reception halls, patient rooms, nursing care, post-anaesthesia care units, parasitology-mycology labs and disinfection units. Although still in the research stage of their prevalence in healthcare settings, it is clear VOC ingestion has adverse effects on human health such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; headaches and the loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system. Some VOCs, benzene specifically, is a carcinogen. Implementing gas detection is therefore a must to safeguard everyone from harm.

Gas sensors should therefore be used within PACU, ICU, EMS, pre-hospital rescue, PAP therapy and HFNC therapy to monitor the gas levels of a range of equipment including ventilators, oxygen concentrators, oxygen generators and anaesthesia machines.

Standards and Certifications

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the organisation in England that regulates the quality and safety of the care delivered within all healthcare, medical, health and social care, and voluntary care settings across the country. The commission provides best practice details for the administering of oxygen to patients and the proper measurement and recording of levels, storage and training about the use of this and other medical gases.

The UK regulator for medical gases is the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They are an Executive Agency of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that ensures public and patient health and safety through the regulation of medicines, healthcare products and medical equipment in the sector. They set appropriate standards of safety, quality, performance and effectiveness, and ensure all equipment is used safely. Any company manufacturing medical gases requires a Manufacturer’s Authorisation issued by the MHRA.

In the USA The Food and Drug Association (FDA) regulates the certification process for the manufacture, sale and marketing of designated medical gases. Under Section 575 the FDA states that anyone marketing a medical gas for human or animal drug use without an approved application is breaking specified guidelines. The medical gases that require certification include oxygen, nitrogen, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, helium, 20 carbon monoxide, and medical air.

To find out more on the dangers in the medial and healthcare sector, visit our industry page for more information.

Construction and Key Gas Challenges

Workers in the construction industry are at risk from a wide variety of hazardous gases including Carbon Monoxide (CO), Chlorine Dioxide (CLO2), Methane (CH4), Oxygen (O2), Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). 

Through the use of specific equipment, transport and the undertaking of sector specific activities, construction is a main contributor to the emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere, which also means construction personnel are more at risk of ingestion of these toxic contaminants. 

Gas challenges can be found in a variety of applications including building material storage, confined spaces, welding, trenching, land clearing and demolition. Ensuring the protection of workers within the construction industry from the multitude of hazards they may encounter is very important. With a specific focus on safeguarding teams from harm by, or the consumption of, toxic, flammable and poisonous gases. 

Gas Challenges 

Confined Space Entry 

Workers are more at risk from hazardous gases and fumes when they are operating within confined spaces.  Those entering these spaces need to be protected from the presence of flammable or/and toxic gases such as Volatile Organic Compounds (ppm VOC), Carbon Monoxide (ppm CO) and Nitrogen Dioxide (ppm NO2). Undertaking clearance measurements and pre-entry safety checks are paramount to ensure safety before a worker enters the space. Whilst in confined spaces gas detection equipment must be worn ongoingly in case of environmental shifts which make the space no longer safe to work in, due to a leak for example, and evacuation is needed. 

Trenching and Shoring 

During excavation works, such as trenching and shoring, construction workers are at risk of inhaling harmful gases generated by degradable materials present in certain ground types. If undetected, as well as posing risks to the construction workforce, they can also migrate through subsoil and cracks into the completed building and harm housing residents. Trenched areas can also have reduced oxygen levels, as well as contain toxic gases and chemicals. In these cases atmospheric testing should be performed in excavations that exceed four feet. There is also the risk of hitting utility lines when digging which can cause natural gas leaks and lead to worker fatalities. 

Building Material Storage  

Many of the materials used within construction can release toxic compounds (VOC’s). These can form in a variety of states (solid or liquid) and come from materials such as adhesives, natural and plywood’s, paint, and building partitions. Pollutants include phenol, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. When ingested, workers can suffer from nausea, headaches, asthma, cancer and even death. VOCs are specifically dangerous when consumed within confined spaces, due to the risk of asphyxiation or explosion. 

Welding and Cutting 

Gases are produced during the welding and cutting process, including carbon dioxide from the decomposition of fluxes, carbon monoxide from the breakdown of carbon dioxide shielding gas in arc welding, as well as ozone, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen chloride and phosgene from other processes. Fumes are created when a metal is heated above its boiling point and then its vapours condense into fine particles, known as solid particulates. These fumes are obviously a hazard for those working in the sector and  illustrate the importance of reliable gas detection equipment to reduce exposure. 

Health and Safety Standards 

Organisations working in the construction sector can prove their credibility and safety operationally by gaining ISO certification. ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certification is split across multiple different certificates, all of which recognise varying elements of safety, efficiency and quality within an organisation. Standards cover best practice across safety, healthcare, transportation, environmental management and family. 

Although not a legal requirement, ISO standards are widely recognised as making the construction industry a safer sector by establishing global design and manufacturing definitions for almost all processes. They outline specifications for best practice and safety requirements within the construction industry from the ground up. 

In the UK, other recognised safety certifications include the NEBOSH, IOSH and CIOB courses which all offer varied health and safety training for those in the sector to further their understanding of working safely in their given field.  

To find out more on the gas challenges in construction visit our industry page for more information. 

What are the Dangers of Confined Space Entry?

What is Confined Space and is it Classified?

Confined Space is a global concern. In this blog we are referencing the UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s dedicated documentation, as well as the United States OSHA ones, as these are broadly familiar to other countries own health and safety procedures. 

A Confined Space is a location that is substantially enclosed although not always entirely, and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby such as a lack of oxygen. As they are so dangerous, it has to be noted that any entry to confined spaces must be the only and final option in order to carry out work. Confined Spaces Regulations 1997. Approved Code of Practice, Regulations and guidance is for employees that work in Confined Spaces, those who employ or train such people and those who represent them. 

The Risks and Hazards:VOCs

A Confined Space that contains certain hazardous conditions may be considered a permit-required confined space under the standard. Permit-required confined spaces can be immediately dangerous to operator’s lives if they are not properly identified, evaluated, tested and controlled. Permit-required confined space can a defined as a confined space where there is a risk of one (or more) of the following: 

  • Serious injury due to fire or explosion 
  • Loss of consciousness arising from increased body temperature  
  • Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation arising from gas, fume, vapour, or lack of oxygen  
  • Drowning from an increase in the level of a liquid  
  • Asphyxiation arising from a free-flowing solid or being unable to reach a respirable environment due to being trapped by such a free-flowing solid 

These arise from the following hazards: 

  • Flammable substances and oxygen enrichment (read more) 
  • Excessive heat 
  • Toxic gas, fume or vapours 
  • Oxygen deficiency 
  • Ingress or pressure of liquids 
  • Free-flowing solid materials 
  • Other hazards (such as exposure to electricity, loud noise or loss of structural integrity of the space) vocs

Confined Space Identification

HSE classify Confined Spaces as any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk, as outlined above.  

Most Confined Spaces are easy to identify although, identification is sometimes required as a Confined Space is not necessarily be an enclosed on all sides – some, such as vats, silos and ships’ hold, may have open tops or sides. Nor are exclusive to a small and/or difficult to work in space – some, like grain silos and ships’ holds, can be very large. They may not be that difficult to get in or out of – some have several entrances/exits, others have quite large openings or are apparently easy to escape from. Or a place where people do not regularly work – some Confined Spaces (such as those used for spray painting in car repair centres) are used regularly by people in the course of their work 

There may be instances where a space itself may not be defined as a Confined Space, however, while work is ongoing, and until the level of oxygen recovers (or the contaminants have dispersed by ventilating the area), it is classified as a Confined Space. Example scenarios are: welding that would consume some of the available breathable oxygen, a spray booth during paint spraying; using chemicals for cleaning purposes which can add volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or acidic gases, or an area subjected to significant rust which has reduced available oxygen to dangerous levels. 

What are the Rules and Regulations for Employers?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have released a factsheet that highlights all the rules and regulations of residential workers in Confined Spaces.  

Under the new standards, the obligation of the employer will depend on what type of employer they are. The controlling contractor is the main point of contact for any information about PRCS on site.  

The Host employer: The employer who owns or manages the property where the construction work is taking place. 

Employer can’t rely solely on the emergency services for rescue. A dedicated service must be ready to act in the event of an emergency.  The arrangements for emergency rescue, required under regulation 5 of the Confined Spaces Regulations, must be suitable and sufficient. If necessary, equipment to enable resuscitation procedures to be carried out should be provided. The arrangements should be in place before any person enters or works in a confined space. 

The Controlling contractor: The employer who has overall responsibility for construction at the worksite. 

 The Entry employer or Sub Contractor: Any employer who decides that an employee it directs will enter a permit-required confined space. 

Employees have the responsibility to raise concern such as helping highlight any potential workplace risks, ensuring that health and safety controls are practical and increasing the level of commitment to working in a safe and healthy way.  

Testing/ Monitoring the Atmosphere:

Prior to entry, the atmosphere within a confined space should be tested to check the oxygen concentration and for the presence of hazardous gas, fume or vapour. Testing should be carried out where knowledge of the confined space (e.g. from information about its previous contents or chemicals used in a previous activity in the space) indicates that the atmosphere might be contaminated or to any extent unsafe to breathe, or where any doubt exists as to the condition of the atmosphere. Testing should also be carried out if the atmosphere is has been previously contaminated and was ventilated as a consequence (HSE Safe Work in Confined Spaces: Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and Approved Codes of Practice). 

The choice of monitoring and detecting equipment will depend on the circumstances and knowledge of possible contaminants and you may need to take advice from a competent person when deciding on the type that best suits the situation – Crowcon can help with this.  

Monitoring equipment should be in good working order. Testing and calibration may be included in daily operator checks (a response check) where identified as necessary in accordance with our specification.  

Where there is a potential risk of flammable or explosive atmospheres, equipment specifically designed to measure for these will be required and certified Intrinsically Safe. All such monitoring equipment should be specifically suited for use in potentially flammable or explosive atmospheres. Flammable gas monitors must be calibrated for the different gases or vapours which the risk assessment has identified could be present and these may need alternative calibrations for different confined spaces. Get in touch if you require any help 

Testing should be carried out by people who are competent in the practice and aware of the existing standards for the relevant airborne contaminates being measured and are also instructed and trained in the risks involved in carrying out such testing in a confined space. Those carrying out the testing should also be capable of interpreting the results and taking any necessary action. Records should be kept of the results and findings ensuring that readings are taken in the following order: oxygen, flammable and then toxics. 

The atmosphere in a confined space can often be tested from the outside, without the need for entry, by drawing samples through a long probe. Where flexible sample tubing is used, ensure that it does not draw water or is not impeded by kinks, blockages, or blocked or restricted nozzles, in-line filters can help with this. 

What products are Intrinsically Safe and are suitable for Confined Space Safety?

These products are Certified to meet local Intrinsically Safe Standards.  

The Gas-Pro portable multi gas detector offers detection of up to 5 gases in a compact and rugged solution. It has an easy-to-read top mount display making it easy to use and optimal for confined space gas detection. An optional internal pump, activated with the flow plate, takes the pain out of pre-entry testing, and allows Gas-Pro to be worn either in pumped or diffusion modes. 

Gas-Pro TK offers the same gas safety benefits as the regular Gas-Pro, while offering Tank Check mode which can auto-range between %LEL and %Volume for inerting applications. 

T4 portable 4-in-1 gas detector provides effective protection against 4 common gas hazards: carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, flammable gases, and oxygen depletion. The T4 multi gas detector now comes with improved detection of pentane, hexane, and other long chain hydrocarbons. 

Tetra 3 portable multi gas monitor can detect and monitor the four most common gases (carbon monoxide, methane, oxygen, and hydrogen sulphide), but also an expanded range: ammonia, ozone, sulphur dioxide, H2 filtered CO (for steel plants). 

What are VOCs?

The nature of gas hazards posed by some working environments can be complex and complete protection is not available from a single solution. This week, our guest blogger, Richard, takes a look at VOCs: how they pose a hazard and what we can do to protect against them.

Continue reading “What are VOCs?”