5 crucial questions to ask yourself during a toxic gas emergency

Toxic gas emergencies can be unpredictable by their very nature. Even if you’ve had early warning from fixed gas alarm systems such as the ones we supply here at Gas Alarms Systems, each situation can pose its own unique set of additional challenges, any one of which can end up complicating efforts to resolve the situation.

However, there are five universal questions applicable to any toxic gas emergency, so it can help to focus on prioritising the answers to these first, giving you a solid springboard for moving on to any complicating factors. Before we go into those though, we should probably start with the most important thing…

gas emergency

Don’t panic

This isn’t something you’ll need reminding of personally, but it might be something that’s worth reiterating to other staff members, especially if they’re new or inexperienced. The same goes for any visitors to your premises. It’s often a good idea to remind everyone of the relevant emergency procedures, and highlight how they’re designed to deal with exactly the kinds of scenarios that you all find yourself dealing with now. Once you’re sure that nobody is going to act rashly or otherwise react in a way that could aggravate the situation, you can then ask…

When did the leak begin?

Establishing the timeline is really important, as it will likely inform your answers to one or more of the subsequent questions. Working out roughly how long the gas has been leaking can give you an idea of what quantity of gas has been released already, and how many people have been exposed (more on each of those in just a moment). It can also be useful later in establishing exactly where the leak began, and possibly point you towards one of the underlying causes, so that measures can be taken to prevent it from happening again.

What is the gas, and how much of it has been released?

Different types of toxic gases can have slightly different (though equally harmful) effects on human health, and occasionally manifest with different symptoms – so identifying the type of gas that’s been released can really help in terms of responding quickly to any developing health issues amongst those affected. Another relevant fact is that different types of toxic gases behave differently – for example, gases that are lighter than air will rise to the ceiling, while those heavier than air will settle at the lowest point. For those two reasons alone, identifying the type of gas that’s been released should be one of the top priorities.

The quantity is important too – working out the quantity of what’s been released can end up being a crucial factor in deciding how to respond. If only a relatively small amount of gas has escaped, it may still be possible to contain it. If a large amount is already in the air however, it may not be safe to try and contain it, in which case evacuation may become the foremost priority.

Where is the gas likely to spread to next?

While you’re dealing with the threat in the immediate area, you’ll simultaneously need to be thinking ahead to predict as best you can where the gas might spread to next. This can prove critical in minimising the danger to areas or people who may not have been affected by the toxic gas just yet, but who might be at imminent risk.

This can be one of the most difficult questions to answer with certainty, especially as toxic gas leaks are unpredictable by nature. It’s always therefore best to err on the side of safety, as it can make a world of difference to protecting the health and safety of anyone in the area, and it may even serve to ultimately help any later containment or clear-up efforts.

Who’s already been exposed, and who is at risk?

The answers to this set of questions will be to some extent determined by your answers to the previous ones. If you know the location and scale of the leak, you’ll likely already be able to make some fairly accurate conclusions about who has been affected. It’s helpful to ensure that your team – and anyone you think may be at risk – knows the most common symptoms of toxic gas exposure, especially if there are any signs specific to the type of gas you’re dealing with.

In general, you’ll want to keep an eye out for anyone experiencing signs of:

  • Drowsiness or tiredness
  • Headaches or nausea
  • Chest or stomach pains

If you do spot anyone with these symptoms, make sure to get them medical attention as soon as you can, even if they don’t think it’s necessary. Toxic gas exposure can cause serious health consequences, and some of the most severe ones can be permanent and life-changing. Tell them it’s not worth the risk!

How can I protect my team, and the community at large?

This is a more general question that will once again be informed by some of your previous answers. But even though we’ve effectively partially covered it already, it’s still worth asking because it highlights the need to think proactively, and stay responsive and flexible in response to changing situations.

Your existing safety procedures should be robust and reliable enough to establish a basic standard of safety, but if there are any factors which aren’t accounted for in the current guidance, then as a general rule it’s best to always trust your instincts. If something looks or feels unsafe, then it probably is.

Oh, we should perhaps mention one last thing: there can of course be a temptation amongst some staff to look at establishing who (if anyone) was at fault, but if ever there’s a time for that, it’s not in the middle of an unfolding emergency. It’s best to leave those discussions for later – instead, the core focus during the emergency itself should be to protect health and safety, and to make sure that all relevant developments are noted and recorded appropriately.

And of course, one of the most effective ways to safeguard the wellbeing of anyone on your site – whether employees or visitors – is to ensure that you’ve got sufficient early warning measure in place. That’s exactly where we can help here at Gas Alarms Systems.

For over 25 years, we’ve been providing our clients with the best in portable gas detectors, as well as natural gas and carbon monoxide detection equipment . Feel free to browse our range of fixed gas detection systems and portable gas detection monitors online today. Or, if you have any questions or need any advice, call us on 01423 862240. We’ll be happy to see how we can help.