by John V. Carvalho III
You probably won’t find too many healthcare facilities without some type of gas detection system. Unfortunately, many building owners and facility managers don’t take the extra step of having the system maintained on a regular basis. It’s an oversight that can have potentially deadly repercussions.
To a degree, you can understand that perspective. A gas detection system is not a small investment. With the installation for a single gas detection unit averaging $1,000, adding a maintenance contract for a new or newer gas system might seem like a luxury. The very nature of a healthcare facility, particularly hospitals, makes it a necessity.
Why? Well, if a detection system doesn’t work, you typically find out in one of three ways. The first is somebody smells something and alerts property management. Second, somebody smells something, becomes ill to the point of losing consciousness and the person who finds them alerts the property management. The third is the worst: there is no odor to a tox or deadly gas and no one knows it because they can’t smell it.
While that may sound overdramatic, it’s not that farfetched. Patients in a hospital or healthcare setting are there because something is wrong. Their senses may not be as sharp or they may be more vulnerable to undetected gases in their weakened state.
Regrettably, many facilities managers go by the mantra that if the gas detection system doesn’t detect anything, nothing is wrong. If you could be 100% sure the system was working properly, you can understand that logic. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if the system is actually reading gas.
By not having a routine maintenance system in place, you can put the health and lives of visitors and workers in your building at risk if your gas detection equipment is not functioning properly. And when it comes to exposure to gases, it only takes one incident to put lives in jeopardy and open up your organization to tremendous liability. In fact, in recent years there have been fatalities at facilities in numerous states in the U.S. where gas detection equipment failed.
The flip side to gas detection equipment not detecting potential dangerous gases is one that is oversensitive and produces false alarms. This is something that occurs in many facilities. While most of these ambient gases are harmless, it is not unusual for a mis-calibrated or infrequent detection system to be set off by them. This can trigger a very costly chain of events—chaos in the immediate vicinity, emergency personnel dispatched to the scene, evacuation of staff and customers, etc.
Bottom line, a false alarm alone can cost thousands of dollars in lost business, lost man hours and the price of emergency personnel dispersed to the site—not to mention the bad publicity and loss of confidence. With any false alarm, there exists the possibility that you are taking personnel away from a real emergency where their services are needed.
When you compare the cost of an annual maintenance plan—roughly $1000–with the thousands of dollars associated with a wrongful death or liability lawsuit, the investment in a maintenance and monitoring program makes all the sense in the world. Yet it’s a conservative estimate that of the buildings that house healthcare facilities and have detection systems, perhaps only 10% have an active maintenance program with testing conducted on a quarterly basis, which is the recommended maintenance schedule for gas detection equipment.
As a building owner or facilities manager of a healthcare facility, the safety of those who work and visit your property is perhaps your most important responsibility. You can run a smooth and efficient operation for 20 years with little fanfare. One incident with your gas detection equipment and system can mar that reputation. Installing a state-of-the-art gas detection system with regular maintenance and monitoring buys you peace of mind that you just can’t put a price tag on.
John V. Carvalho III is president of Apollo Safety, Inc.