Safety must be a core value of any operation dealing with potentially hazardous gases. While a practitioner of safety within the organization may set protocols or procedures, buy-in from all levels is critical to create a culture of safety and avoid issues where a serious lapse in safety might occur. Organizations that work with gas should seek to integrate effective technologies into protocols which will ultimately help ensure safe operational practices.
Recent advancements in Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) technology offers companies in a variety of industries the opportunity to help safeguard employees while also bolstering a culture of safety. For example, OGI cameras from FLIR can be used in upstream and downstream oil and gas operations, along with power plants and other industrial facilities to help organizations meet their safety objectives.
Many common safety practices depend upon safety equipment that operates solely within an area of relative unsafety. The wearable gas monitor plays an important function in protecting workers, but it only warns of a danger once the person wearing it is standing in a cloud of gas. There are several other technologies that allow operators to find an unsafe condition within a piece of equipment, but few of these operate until the user is within that unsafe condition. This holds true for low-tech but prevalent safety tools: namely, the common soap bubble. In sum, these technologies and their results could send a cultural message that some risk is acceptable and perhaps inevitable, contradicting the message of safety. Just as certain safety tools carry an apparent inevitability of personal risk, so do some routine safety tasks. A prime example from the upstream oil and gas sector is the practice of tank gauging. Employees must scale a ladder and walk out onto a catwalk in order to extend a dipstick into the liquid. The worker stands directly over a tank, where a potentially high concentration of gas emissions may lurk undetected. Downstream, the risk profile changes. Many of the hydrocarbon gases in refineries are more toxic than those present at upstream facilities. As a result, an employee who unknowingly enters an unsafe area could face more pronounced negative consequences, or negative effects in less time. A prominent method for detecting unsafe gas levels in this context are wearable gas monitors.
Even the most common safety monitoring equipment invites a level of uncertainty. A wearable gas detector begins to beep: Is the wearer at the edge of a gas cloud, or at its center? In which direction should the wearer go to get out of the hazardous area? More importantly for remedying unsafe conditions, where is the exact location of a leak? While these technologies may be good at detecting the presence of gas, they have their drawbacks. Using them could encourage, to some extent, a cultural feeling that close enough may be good enough.
A primary safety benefit that doubles as a safety culture benefit is the visual range of OGI cameras. Unlike other tools, an OGI camera offers the ability to visualize unsafe conditions from a safe distance. Equipped with OGI, refinery employees can judge whether an area contains a toxic gas build-up, sparing them exposure to the gas that would be required to set off a wearable, beeping gas monitor. Likewise, workers tasked with gauging large tanks can assess the emission characteristics of the tank before placing themselves in any potential cloud. With OGI, employees in this situation can easily scan in the direction of the wind flow, giving them the opportunity to select a safer position on the catwalk or, if no gas is visible, give an all-around “all clear” for safer measurement. OGI gives employees actionable, precise information about the hazards that exist in their immediate surroundings, without endangering personnel.