A Timely Matter: Workplace Gas Detection Smarts

Gas leaks don’t sound all that interesting, but they can be deadly. So, here’s how to detect one and keep everyone safe.

Repairing a gas leak

Detecting a Leak

Detecting a gas leak is sometimes difficult, but can be done with the use of a gas meter or monitor. Gas detectors are required by some industries as standard protocol. A gas detector is a special electronic device that can sense certain gasses and will emit an auditory alarm, along with warning lights, when the concentration of those gasses exceeds a certain pre-defined level.

They are considered a critical piece of safety equipment and are used to detect potentially explosive atmospheres, toxic gasses, and oxygen deficient environments.

Detectors may be placed in rooms, or carried with an employee on-site through various locations where gas lines or tanks exist, or where there is an inherent danger of toxic gas buildup. If you have generators of any kind monitoring is especially critical. There is generator monitoring available for gas and diesel-fueled generators to keep your workspace safe.

Monitors come in all shapes and sizes, but some of the most effective ones are the small, portable ones that can be worn on a belt, or carried on a strap around a person’s neck or shoulder.

Doing a Bump Test

A bump test refers to a special kind of loading test for the gas monitor. This portable gas monitor, for example, will monitor the atmosphere for high concentrations of particular gasses, but a bump test involves purposefully exposing the meter to known high or excessive concentrations of target gasses to elicit an alarm response.

The purpose of the test is to determine and test the monitor’s efficacy and sensitivity. If a monitor fails to detect known dangerous levels of a gas, then it must be serviced or replaced with a working model.

Manual Test

Manual tests are less specific and accurate than automated ones using a gas concentration meter or monitor. Manual tests involve either:

Smell – the “smell test” is a basic test that involves monitoring the air for that “natural gas smell.” Normally, natural gas does not have an odor. However, gas companies add substances to create a distinctive smell.

If you detect a natural gas odor, you should evacuate the premises immediately.

Unnatural odors in the air are not necessarily a fool-proof method of detecting a leak, however. Smells may not be apparent if you’re tired, you have become desensitized to odors, you have a health condition that diminishes your sense of smell, or if the natural gas odor is masked by other odors.

Many chemicals may cover a natural gas odor, and certain conditions inside gas lines may cause the odor to fade. The loss of the artificial odorant may make the natural gas difficult or impossible to smell.


If you hear an unusual sound, like hissing or whistling, or you hear a roaring sound near a natural gas line, evacuate the building immediately and sound the alarm so that others may evacuate also.

Whistling or hissing is indicative of a gas leak. Rumbling is indicative of a fire or explosion.

Emergency exit doors

Safety Protocols and Emergency Numbers

When you do detect a leak, evacuate the building immediately. In order to have a successful evacuation, you need to have a pre-planned evacuation protocol. Periodic drills should be conducted to protect workers and familiarize them with the process.

Call your gas company immediately. Then, call 9-1-1 to have first responders on the scene. Gas leaks are potentially life-threatening because one spark could cause an explosion. Do not smoke or light a match, candle, or other open flame.

Do not allow employees or anyone else light a match, smoke, or create a spark of any kind.

Do not start an engine or use anything that could cause a spark in a gas leak. Finally, don’t attempt to control the leak, or perform any repairs to a damaged gas line, yourself. Have the gas company bring specialized technicians to the site to perform the work.

They know how to deal with gas leaks.

Safety Equipment

Safety equipment is also important. Keep a flashlight handy to check out minor gas odors and to verify leaks if it’s safe. Never use matches. Check pilot lights periodically to make sure that they are lit.

Provide workers with basic safety gear, like masks that are easily accessible in the event of a gas leak. This might help some workers breath easier while trying to escape the building.

Finally, emergency numbers should be put on speed dial on every company phone, including cell phones given to employees. This will allow anyone to make a phone call to first responders.