3 Tips for Proper Use of Personal Air Monitors
Personal monitors are a PPE item that is easily misunderstood, misused and sometimes, ultimately discarded. Intended to be a powerful tool to identify levels of gas in the environment, personal air monitors are often seen as over-complicated. This perception leads to misunderstanding, misuse, and eventually the idea that they are ineffective and unnecessary. However, not understanding an item does not mean we can discard it. Let’s look at a few common misunderstandings with personal air monitors to uncover some truth.
1. Know The Equipment
Each personal air monitor can differ from the next depending on the type and manufacturer. Calibration, bump test, and function test requirements will vary by manufacturer and equipment. There is no ‘one method for all’ procedure. Therefore, everyone using, and managing the use of, personal air monitors must be intimately familiar with the specific equipment being used. The personal monitor program should include, among other components, (1) the specific manufacturer and model of the monitor, (2) the type of monitor being used, and (3) the manufacturer’s recommendations in detail.
If you implement a personal monitor program, but do not include the details for each specific manufacturer and type of monitor being used, then you will be at risk of equipment failure or exposure to hazardous atmospheres.
Extra Tip: Correction factors can differ depending on the manufacturer or model. Correction factor tables are typically provided by the manufacturer and are specific to the meter.
2. Select Appropriate Monitors for the Whole Job, Not Just One Task
Developing and implementing a program utilizing only one meter may lead to complacency in air monitoring. There is no meter that detects all possible chemical exposures. Just because the meter you select doesn’t indicate the presence of a hazardous atmosphere doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Even worse, employees may be sent into a hazardous environment with the wrong protection.
Take some time to do the homework on the environment surrounding the job to identify the possible chemical exposure hazards. Failure to do so could result in selecting an inadequate monitor for the job.
This often happens with regard to the Lower Explosive Limit exposures in confined spaces.
The Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) is defined as “the lowest concentration (by percentage) of a gas or vapor in air that is capable of producing a flash of fire in presence of an ignition source (arc, flame, heat).” 1
In a confined space, an oxygen monitor is often used, which is appropriate when protecting employees from high/low levels of oxygen. But, these monitors provide no warning of explosive concentrations. So, while the monitor is informing workers of oxygen levels, it does not detect all environmental hazards in the specific work area.
3. The Employee Using the Monitor Must Understand the Monitor
Finally, the employees who will be using the monitors must be intimately familiar with the capabilities and limitations of the monitor. Just as we mentioned at the beginning, misunderstanding can quickly lead to the assumption that the tool is unnecessary. It does no good if the individuals using the equipment do not understand the functions or the readings.
So, the lesson here is that an employer is responsible for determining the specific hazards of a specific task or environment, the specific PPE necessary to protect employee performing the job, and educating the employees to use the equipment. PPE is the last layer of protection, not a cure-all. The equipment must fit the exposure, the employee must fully understand the exposure, and how the PPE is intended to protect him/her.