How to detect and respond to toxic gas leaks

As far as workplace incidents go, there’s no question that toxic gas leaks are amongst the most serious, posing major health risks to everyone on the premises. It’s one of the key reasons why it’s so important to have a robust risk assessment in place, and an action plan in case of an emergency.

Of course, when it comes to minimising the risks around toxic gases, one of the most effective ways is to install the right fixed gas detection systems – just like the ones we supply here at Gas Alarm Systems. While they provide a reliable way to detect a gas leak though, you may occasionally be able to detect toxic gas leaks on your own. If that happens, here’s what to do.

toxic gas

What to look out for in a toxic gas leak

As we’ve touched on above, toxic gas detection systems are the most reliable indicators that a leak may have occurred. But in addition to those, any of the following symptoms on their own could be strong indicators that you have a leak.

The smell of rotten eggs or sulphur

Natural gas is typically odourless and colourless, which is one of the main qualities that can make it so dangerous. To mitigate this risk, most natural gas companies add a chemical called Mercaptan, or methanethiol, which smells like sulphur (or rotten eggs). So if it’s a smell you or your colleagues notice – and crucially, there aren’t any rotten eggs in the vicinity – there’s a good chance that you have a gas leak.

Feelings of dizziness, or fainting

These are amongst the first symptoms that humans often feel from gas leaks, so if one or more people on your team are feeling dizzy for no obvious reason, then you’ll need to at least consider the possibility of a gas leak. If multiple people are feeling the same effects, then it’s almost guaranteed to the result of toxic gas – so waste no time in evacuating them.

A hissing or whistling sound

This can be one of the more difficult signs to detect, especially in isolation, since so many industrial and commercial facilities can be a hive of activity and noise at any one time. It can also be ambiguous – a hissing noise could just as easily be an issue with an air conditioning unit, for example. However, if you’ve noticed any of the indications above, and then detected a hissing or whistling sound, it’s a reasonably good indication that there’s probably a fault with the gas line.

What to do in the event of a toxic gas leak

Once you have good reason to believe that a toxic gas leak is occurring, the next step is to protect the safety of you and your team as quickly as you can. The exact advice varies depending on the nature of the gas being leaked, but we’ve laid out some of the most universal rules below. First and foremost…

Get everyone to safety

This will be your absolute top priority when a gas leak is detected. You’ll already have an action plan for evacuation detailed on your risk assessment, so the main thing is to ensure that this is followed properly. Make sure that if necessary, escape routes are re-routed around any affected areas, so that people avoid contact with the gas as far as they can. (Especially if it’s LPG, as this has the ability to cause cold burns and saturate clothing.)

Make the area as safe as you can

Open all doors and windows to ventilate the area, and turn off the emergency gas control valve at the meter – but only if it’s safely and easily accessible, and not situated in a basement, for example. (Lots of toxic gases are heavier than air, so they will be at their most dangerous at the lower levels.)

Make sure to extinguish all naked flames, and don’t operate electrical switches. That means, for example, not turning lights on and off, as this can ignite any escaping gas.

Call for help

Once you’ve made the area as safe as you can and everyone has been evacuated, make sure to call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999, and wait for an accredited Gas Safe Engineer to arrive. Don’t let anyone else near the problem, and only re-enter the building once the Gas Safe Engineer has told you it’s safe to do so.

It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive list – only the essentials! Ultimately, the safety of your staff and your premises is your responsibility – but we’re here to make your job as easy as we can, with a wide range of portable and fixed gas detection systems. Feel free to take a look through them right here on our site, or if you have any questions or need any advice, then give our in-house experts a call on 01423 862240. We’re here to help!