by John V. Carvalho III
Life science companies in the region are accomplishing tremendous things. Many of these new discoveries improve, lengthen, and, in many cases, save lives. Keeping the people making these modern-day miracles safe while on the job is paramount. This is why facilities managers who are on top of their games maintain safety and protection devices on a regular basis. That should start with gas monitoring equipment.
When it comes to the labs, hazmat, and bulk storage in these life science facilities, most firms cover the basics very well. That means having the four most critical pieces of safety equipment in a lab — fire extinguisher, eye wash station, chemical shower, and the telephone — visible and easily accessible from every lab station. The sometimes overlooked safety aspects in the lab typically involve the invisible — gases and whether or not the monitoring equipment is accurately and properly installed and maintained to detect these gases.
Most labs are equipped with some sort of gas detection monitoring system that alerts you to CO, oxygen depletion (or elevation), and combustible or toxic gases. The recommended type of system for most labs is a “fixed” monitoring, hard-wired stationary gas detection system with a monitoring panel and sensors located throughout the laboratory.
The systems today can be as simple or complex as needed to allow for as little as local notification or as extensive as remote monitoring, view, and control from any Internet connection and fully integrated to building management systems. Any of these systems, if required by local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), can also notify fire department, 24-hour monitoring station, or both, as well as facility or environmental health and safety (EHS) personnel.
One of the recommendations we make with the installation of any gas detection system is some sort of maintenance plan. Why? If the gas detection system fails, you typically find out in one of three ways. The first way is somebody smells something and alerts property management. The second way occurs when somebody is exposed to something, becomes ill, or, eventually, loses consciousness. The third way is the worst of all scenarios: there is no odor to some toxic or immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) gases and no one knows it because they can’t smell it. This scenario can be lethal.
The most important aspect of safety while working with or around hazardous gases is that the monitoring equipment is properly maintained on a manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule by gas detection professionals in order to be in compliance with OSHA and other state and federal regulations.
Regrettably, many facilities managers go by the mantra that if the gas detection system is reading zero that nothing is wrong. Unfortunately, you can’t know a gas detection system is working unless it is tested with the correct gases.
Investing in a routine maintenance preventive maintenance (PM) program for your lab’s gas detection systems protects the health, lives, and property of visitors and workers first and foremost. Second, it protects your organization from tremendous liability.
As a life sciences company, creating a safe lab environment does more than protect those working for you. It provides peace of mind, awareness, and preparation. It makes your workers feel better about your organization because it shows your care and concern for their well-being as well as your commitment to the next discovery.
John V. Carvalho, III is the president of Apollo Safety, Inc. Veteran-owned, Apollo Safety specializes in gas detection products and services for portable and stationary systems.