Stricter EU and UK legislation regarding gas leak detection is welcome but isn’t necessarily driving a rise in best practice. That’s according to Duncan Webb, Condition Monitoring Application Engineer at ERIKS UK & Ireland, who says:
“Our Condition Monitoring team visits a number of sites that handle volatile organic compounds (VOCs) each year and we often hear the same questions crop up, time and again.”
Duncan notes that many teams consider Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) technology to be the perfect solution in gas leak prevention. Without adequate training, however, they risk not only wasting money, but also the endangerment of staff and visitors at the site.
“OGI is recommended by the EU for a good reason but only when it’s implemented properly,” he argues. “Otherwise, you might as well have saved the money for something else.”
What, then, can be done to ensure that a gas leak prevention regime is implemented effectively?
Don’t say: “It’s always been like that”. “Gas leaks are hard to spot, particularly if only small levels of VOC are released over a number of months or years,” Duncan explains. If that’s the case, surely the leak can be ignored? “No matter the severity, a gas leak is a gas leak,” Duncan says. “As well as impacting productivity and profitability over the long term, gas leaks of any degree pose health risks to employees, particularly those in direct contact with the leak on a daily basis.”
Do pay attention to every detail. “Scrutinise everything and overlook nothing,” Duncan says. “Even if you don’t smell a gas leak, you’ve got nothing to lose by checking. You may be surprised by what you find.” Make sure this attention to detail also translates to your auditing and reporting. “Specialist reports can provide a fully auditable trail for any health and safety regulations,” Duncan advises.
Don’t assume that you can use an expensive optical gas imaging camera. A Ferrari is no good to someone without a driving licence, and the same goes for OGI technology. “Snazzy cameras provide a false sense of security,” Duncan explains. “Unless an operator knows how to tune them to the correct frequencies, and interpret the images he receives, he won’t get the results he needs.” What’s more, with top-line OGI cameras costing upwards of £60,000, it’s usually more cost-effective to outsource this to a specialist anyway.
Don’t stick to traditional techniques. “It’s both amusing and painful to watch as engineers desperately scan the lengths of their plant systems, hoping to catch a glimpse of tell-tale soapy bubbles,” Duncan says. As well as dated, time-consuming and wildly inaccurate, methods like this also make providing an audit trail or traceability nigh-on impossible. “If a plant manager needs to prove that there are no leaks, even a video of this method would not be sufficient,” Duncan adds. Save the soapy water for your morning shower.
Do understand the limitations of any leak detection technology. “Whenever we visit a site, we’re often asked how much a gas leak has been costing the business,” Duncan says. “Some companies claim to offer this exact service, but don’t be fooled: services like these will only be around 30 per cent accurate at best.” Quantifying gas leaks is difficult – if not impossible – so make sure that you focus on the potential savings, rather than the previous losses, when pitching a gas monitoring strategy to your boss.
Do speak to a specialist. This is essentially the moral of the story, as Duncan explains: “You wouldn’t attempt an M.O.T. on your car unless you were a mechanic, and you certainly wouldn’t ignore a problem like faulty brakes. The same applies to gas leaks. Condition Monitoring teams like ours take an unbiased, straightforward approach. We don’t see gas leaks in terms of monetary losses: a leak is a leak and must be fixed!”
Verify the effectiveness of any repairs. Whether you’ve undertaken the repairs yourself, or used a specialist, you need to be sure that any problems have been fixed. “Some customers ask the Condition Monitoring team to do a ‘partial audit’ that covers only the areas repaired,” Duncan advises. “Again, it’s about traceability and compliance. If you can go back to any authority and demonstrate incontrovertibly that you have resolved a problem, then your reputation for professionalism stands to increase significantly.”
For information on ERIKS condition monitoring services, please visit www.eriks.co.uk/en/services-page/monitor/condition-monitoring/.