An industrial maintenance worker entered a tank to clean it. His employer knew that the tank had stored powerful chemicals, so he rented a SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) rig for his employee to wear. But the tank opening was so small that the employee could not enter with the rig on, so the boss instructed the employee to go in the tank and put on the rig after it was lowered to him on a rope. The employee collapsed before he could get the rig on. They did not perform a pre-entry air sample with a portable gas monitor.

Recently a firefighter, not wearing proper protective clothing, was severely burned while fighting a fire. The victim was spraying water from the bed of a pickup truck equipped with a portable water tank and pump when he fell out of the truck bed into the fire. He tried to run from the fire, but was severely burned. He died five days later from burn injuries.

In both cases, loss of life could have been prevented if safety clothing and tools like gas detection had been used properly. Remember, your gear and your tools are your lifeline.

Don’t buy on the cheap
The idea that an industrial safety team can get by with the cheapest or most basic gear is like saying if your car isn’t driven very often, you need fewer safety features.

The frequency of risk may decrease with fewer incident responses, but when there is a fire, spill, rescue effort, etc., the chance of your team getting hurt is equal…or it may even be greater.


Some believe in the theory that if you go on more calls, you have more experience and that experience provides a better understanding of what can go wrong. That makes sense. An organization must be serious about making sure that its safety equipment reflects the needs within that organization.

What should your safety department purchase — off-the-shelf S, M, L, XL, XXL or XXXL? That may be fine if you are buying jeans, but when the only thing between you and exposure to a dangerous chemical agent is your respirator, wouldn’t you want well-specified gear fit tested for leaks and offering the best protection?

Or when a crew member enters a confined space where some arc-welding was performed recently, wouldn’t you want him equipped with a portable gas detector that has the best internal pump, so a pre-entry check can be performed and an accurate measurement obtained, giving a good idea of the oxygen level?

Is funding an issue? As one old-timer said, “We can do without a few bells and whistles in some of our shop equipment, but if our safety manager doesn’t think we should get the best safety gear, what does that say about him…and him taking care of us?”

In other words, if your city has their priorities straight, they won’t buy the cheapest bullet-proof vests for the cops, the cheapest bunker gear for the firefighters, or the cheapest gas detectors for the HAZMAT team. Your company shouldn’t provide the cheapest gear for your safety team either.

Remember, quality doesn’t necessarily translate to “expensive”; on the contrary, a quality item should reduce the overall cost of ownership.

Take your portable gas detector as an example. If the unit offers a quick, easy way to bump test and calibrate, sensors that are easy to replace, and a maintenance program that’s backed by the manufacturer, it is likely your company will save money over many lower cost models (and get better protection as well).

Elements of your arsenal
The following items make up a basic personal safety toolkit:
  • Head protection (hard hats, liners, headgear, visors, helmet with strap)
  • Eye and face protection (face shields, goggles, safety glasses, storage boxes)
  • Hearing protection (ear muffs, earplugs)
  • Respiratory protection (masks and respirators, cartridges and filters; SCBA, airline, escape, air cartridges)
  • Hand protection (gloves)
  • Special protective clothing (protective bunker pants, hood tucked into collar, high visibility vests, etc.)
  • Protective footwear (boots)
  • Fire safety (extinguishers and accessories, fire alarms and stoppers, megaphones, fire equipment storage)
  • Gas detection kit (including portable gas detector, cartridges, pumps, confined space entry case)
Use your equipment; know your equipment
Let’s apply this toolkit to the work of emergency responders. They should never operate with any exposed skin. PPE should be worn from head to toe in or near flammable environments.

Plus, protection is needed from smoke hazards. In addition to inhalation concerns, smoke can be directly absorbed into skin and that can lead to cancer. Emergency responders also are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); these include benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde. These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and occur both at the scene of a fire and at the home base, where idling diesel fire trucks produce diesel exhaust containing nitrogen dioxide.

To help emergency responders avoid inhalation and skin exposures to known and suspected occupational carcinogens, a portable gas detector can provide early-warning presence of toxic or combustible chemicals, in many cases up to parts per million (ppm) gas concentration levels or %LEL. The unit should accept a wide variety of sensors to handle all emergency response calls including confined space entry, chemical spills, post-fire inspections, spot leak testing and more.

Gas detector basics
Get to know your gas detector. Knowledge is easy to come by. Premium portable units are designed for simple operation, with large backlit display and oversized buttons. These features help the user operate and view gas readings in foggy, dark or wet conditions.

Check to see if the unit logs standard data as well as event and calibration data that can be loaded onto a computer program in case the data needs to be retrieved.

If any of your crew has a limited understanding of English, check to see if the portable offers multi-lingual display or voice-assisted operation. The unit should also convey alarm annunciation in multisensory ways — audibly (through a distinctive loud sound), visually (through strobe) and tactilely (through vibration). In this way, workers will be alerted to emergency alarms quickly and without fail.

Care and use training
While it seems simple enough, proper training in the care and use of protective clothing is vital. Emergency responders must understand how critical it is for protective clothing to fit well; after all, if the gear is too loose it can interfere with an emergency responder’s ability to function, and if the gear is too tight, it can lead to greater heat conduction and burn injuries.

Your gear should be fitted to you during the acquisition process. Training is available from all protective clothing manufacturers as well as any entry-level fire training center. Don’t forget to read the user guide supplied with your gear. Standard training manuals all cover the basics of protective clothing. Equipment also must be cleaned, sanitized, and inspected for serviceability before being issued to another employee or certified for use for another workday. BC20: SIDEBAR: Bump testing a portable gas detector The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), a trade association for manufacturers of protective equipment, recommends, at a minimum, verification of sensor accuracy before each day’s use. The only way to guarantee that an instrument will detect gas accurately and reliably is to test it with a known concentration of the target gas. Exposing the instrument to a known concentration of test gas will show whether the sensors respond accurately and whether the instrument alarm functions properly.