3 key things to remember when using portable gas detectors

Contrary to popular belief, gas detectors are not classified as Category 3 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Weird right? But that doesn’t mean that they’re not important. They provide an effective warning system for workers operating in dangerous environments, so deciding on the type of gas detection system for your business isn’t always a decision you can make off the cuff.


Portable gas detectors save lives. That’s what they’re designed for, and it’s what they’re very good at – but only when they’re used correctly. Just like with all other types of safety-critical equipment, even small mistakes or oversights in their use can result in hugely dangerous (and potentially lethal) consequences. So to help you and your staff avoid some of the biggest risks, here are our top recommendations for getting the best results out of your portable gas detectors, whatever your sector or industry.

1. Make sure you’ve got the right portable gas detector for the job

It might sound so obvious as to almost not be worth saying, but we’d be remiss not to! Proper portable gas detectors are made to an exacting set of standards, and should not be confused with gas leak analysers which aren’t intended as life safety devices. The latter can often be useful for confined entry space testing, but shouldn’t be relied on for sustained or regular work around hazardous gases.

Individual portable gas detectors may be able to detect anywhere between one and seven gases, and different models are tailored for different gases and applications. So before any work begins, it’s absolutely vital to ensure a full risk assessment has been carried out for the intended working area, and that any and all potential hazards have been identified and mitigated for whenever possible.

Where toxic gases are concerned, that means taking the extra time to make absolutely certain the correct portable gas detectors have been specified. You’ll need to know:

• Their full capabilities (including the gases they detect)
• If there are any specific contaminants that might affect the effectiveness of their sensors (for example, catalytic bead sensors shouldn’t be used in areas where lead is present)
• If they are any other more general environmental factors they might be affected by (such as temperature, pressure levels, or humidity)

Most importantly, it’s worth assessing whether portable gas detectors are the best measures for the job. For public or off-site areas (such as sewers) that might not be conducive to setting up fixed systems, portable gas detectors are indeed the best way to go. However, for regular on-site work at your own premises, it might be worth thinking about setting up a fixed gas detection system, which are generally preferable wherever possible.


2. Placement and positioning of your portable gas detector

It’s not unusual to see portable gas detectors affixed to people’s belts, but really that’s far from an ideal place for them. Since they’re protecting the user from gases and respiratory toxins, it’s best to have them as possible to where these toxins are most likely to enter the body – through the mouth and nose.

It’s worth bearing in mind that all gases behave differently; nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide, for example, are all lighter than air, so they tend to accumulate at higher points. Meanwhile, gases like hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide are heavier, and therefore generally found at lower levels in any given working area. In order to maximise safety value, the safest place to wear a portable gas detector is in your breathing zone, i.e. as close to your mouth and nose as possible.

What’s more, positioning the gas detector closely to the user’s face gives it the very best chance to alerting them quickly to dangerous situations. If it’s out of the user’s eyeline, on the other hand, and it’s a busy, noisy space, then there’s a chance that they may miss the audible and visual alarms, potentially negating the safety value that the detector has to offer.

3. Bump test your detectors frequently

Bump testing your gas detection alarms might not seem like the most pulse-pounding or productive use of your time, but it’s absolutely vital to preserving their value as lifesaving devices. Each bump test exposes the detector to a controlled concentration of gas that’s notably higher than its alarm set points, so it remains one of the most reliable ways to ensure that it’s functioning properly as a unit, and capable of fulfilling its primary purpose. It checks that the sensors respond to the target gas, that the display reacts, and that the device goes into alarm.

However, bump tests don’t test for accuracy. To do that, you’d have to calibrate the gas detector, so that also needs to be done separately on a regular basis. In fact, on that note each portable gas detector needs to be properly inspected, calibrated and serviced by a competent individual. If there are any doubts at all about their capabilities, they should be removed from active service until they can be fully certified.

And if you ever find yourself in need of replacement portable gas detectors, that’s exactly what we’re here for. At Gas Alarm Systems we’ve got more than 25 years of experience in the design, development and maintenance of gas leak detection equipment. Feel free to take a look at our range of fixed gas detection systems or portable gas detectors, or if you have any questions or need any advice, by all means call us on 01423 862240, and we’ll be happy to see how we can help.