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Using Area Monitors to Improve Efficiency and Safety of Confined Space Operations

Confined Space  |   March 6, 2019  |   Industrial Scientific

You’ve probably heard confined space horror stories a million times. The person inside of a confined space performing routine maintenance becomes unresponsive. The “hole watch” responsible for monitoring the work goes into the confined space to check on his partner and is overcome by the same deadly gas. It’s a tragic story of trying to help a co-worker based on gut reaction rather than proper safety protocols. According to OSHA, would-be rescuers make up 60 percent of confined space fatalities.

Properly training all workers before they work in or around confined spaces is a must, but in reality, not every job is performed under ideal conditions or with enough information about gas hazards. Advancements in gas detection equipment, including area monitors, take these tragic real-world scenarios to heart and incorporate better communication technology to ensure everyone working around confined spaces will not only hear and see gas alarms but also know where and why instruments are alarming. These new technologies aim to reduce would-be rescuer fatalities and accidents due to false evacuations. They also facilitate a faster emergency response from trained peers in the field, rather than relying on help from a central controller many miles away.

While it’s common for workers to perform atmospheric testing in confined spaces with handheld portable instruments, area monitors with peer-to-peer wireless capability can improve efficiency and safety of confined space operations, particularly those calling for extended, continuous monitoring.

What is LENS™ Wireless?

LENS Wireless is a peer-to-peer communication network that wirelessly connects area monitors to personal gas monitors. The focus of a LENS network is to improve worker safety by sharing real-time alarms and gas readings between the connected monitors. With this data, the attendant watching the hole in our example above would have known what caused his partner to become unresponsive without being exposed firsthand. Unlike other market solutions, LENS Wireless doesn’t require external communication networks like cellular or satellite, so the communication still works in confined spaces without the traditional connectivity.

Where Area Monitors with Peer-to-Peer Wireless Win

Monitoring Multiple Confined Spaces:

According to OSHA standards, 1910.146(d)(6) Attendants may be assigned to monitor more than one permit space provided the duties described in paragraph (i) of this section can be effectively performed for each permit space that is monitored. Likewise, attendants may be stationed at any location outside the permit space to be monitored as long as the duties described in paragraph (i) of this section can be effectively performed for each permit space that is monitored.” While OSHA’s rule says that watching multiple confined spaces at one time is acceptable, choosing the right gas detection tool is imperative.

close-up of two area monitor screens. One shows an alarm for high H2S, the other has normal gas levels but shows that another area has an alarmArea monitors that offer a large display, clear alarms and long run times can exceed regulatory requirements while adding wireless communication can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of safety programs. For example, if area monitors are placed outside confined spaces with tubing to draw samples from inside the space or are placed inside the confined space, they can relay the gas readings to other connected instruments. That allows the attendant the flexibility to monitor what’s happening from any other connected instrument. If one instrument goes into alarm, all connected units will go into alarm. The attendant will know exactly where the problem is because it’s visible on the instrument display. For example, the images to the right show the readings for two Radius BZ1 Area Monitors. The top monitor, within the confined space, is in alarm because of high H2S levels. The bottom monitor, which is placed near the attendant, shows a peer alarm indicating that there is high H2S in Area_001.

Having this information lets the attendant know that it’s unsafe to enter the confined space without taking proper safety precautions and that the entrant should be evacuated. This is an example of how the equipment helps to bridge the gap for inexperienced or untrained workers. The area monitor loudly and clearly communicates the hazard so there is little need for interpretation or ambiguity. In addition to the gas reading and high alarm icon, the attendant will know the difference between high alarms, low alarms, and maintenance reminders thanks to varying tones and different flashing colors that correspond to each alarm level. For example, flashing red means evacuate (high alarm), red and blue means approach with caution (low alarm), and blue means the instrument needs attention (low battery, calibration due, etc.) These communication mechanisms, combined with peer-to-peer wireless, help reduce false evacuations and better prepare workers for gas hazards around confined spaces.

The Live Monitoring Layer

Knowing what’s happening at any given moment across workers and sites increases reaction times and helps responders know what they are facing and where they need to go. Using a cloud-based monitoring platform connected to wireless area monitors is the easiest way to view real-time area monitor readings. Cloud software is available on any device, anywhere, at any time, proving instant access to live data.

Real-time area monitoring allows for a more holistic view of environmental conditions with advanced warnings and the ability to react quickly. In addition, the constant availability of data provides staff and employers with a deeper insight into potential hazards – empowering management to make decisions that will improve job safety.