Sensor Sensibility: Choosing the Correct Sensor for the Job

In many scenarios, 15 seconds is not a significant amount of time; however, in the oil and gas industry, this small interval can mean the difference between life, health hazards and even death for onsite workers. In such events, having equipment that’s reliable and designed to quickly alert workers of the presence of hazardous gas is crucial for protection and an effective evacuation, if necessary. Through history, the benefits of sensor technology have rarely received the standalone praise they deserve, oftentimes packaged into the advantages afforded by safety solutions. Yet the faster and more intelligent sensor speeds of today allow workers to put time back on their side, and ensure that those 15 second intervals are not taken for granted. To provide this protection to their workers, companies must fully understand the capabilities of their detection device suite in order to safeguard against their site’s specific challenges.

 The importance of sensor sensitivity
The evolution of sensor technology has given onsite workers an additional layer of safety, specifically through improved sensitivity, accuracy and more intelligent information channeling. The value of understanding a device’s capabilities and limitations are illustrated through the example of how a sensor’s t90 time (the amount of time required for a sensor to measure 90 percent of a test gas concentration) can vary the degree of impact that hydrogen sulfide (H2S) has on exposed workers.

Worker A is wearing a device with a sensor with a t90 of 15 seconds versus Worker B, wearing a sensor with t90 time of 25 to 40 seconds. Initially, neither device records a reaction, despite the simultaneous exposure to H2S. At 15 seconds, however, Worker A’s device begins to register a gas reading while Worker B’s device has yet to register a reading. Due to the device with a longer t90 time, Worker B could begin to experience effects from the H2S exposure before the alarm alerts of the surrounding H2S level.

Fortunately for Worker A, his device responds faster and goes into an A2 alarm, notifying the worker of the hazardous environment, prompting an evacuation of the dangerous area. It will take additional time before Worker B’s device alarm activates, at which point the level of exposure may only continue to worsen, and the worker may suffer from eye irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea, throat and eye irritation, coughing and breathing difficulty.

The benefits afforded by a sensor’s features not only can help create more intelligent work practices, but also protect a company’s most valuable asset—its workers.

 Understanding “pressure compensation”
In addition to a sensor’s speed, companies must recognize how the sensor’s technology performs under the disturbance of outside factors. Sensors rely on their programming and internal mechanisms in order to function, and when these features are married to the understanding of a specific worksite’s areas of risk, this knowledge can help guide smarter sensor selections.

One such sensor feature is its ability to calibrate at one pressure and measure at another (+/-30%). This “pressure compensation” helps devices maintain accuracy as the pressure fluctuates, resulting in fewer false alarms and fewer wasted efforts. The benefits are most noticeable in sudden elevation changes, like those experienced in elevators and meteorological changes such as standard weather fronts. If workers can rely on their equipment to accurately measure surrounding influences, they can truly respect and value the device’s reading when it signals the presence of danger.

 Make informed choices
While durability may be often more associated with a device’s outer casing and shell, it’s an important consideration for sensor conversation. Although many safety solutions are designed to meet, if not surpass, their target exposure limits, the continued use creates wear and tear on the equipment and its features — including the sensors. Since a sensor’s durability and therefore its operating lifespan are inherently linked, manufacturers’ understanding of this important connection may design their sensors so as not to degrade with direct proportional exposure to toxins. Having this knowledge as an end user can aid in the evaluation and selection process of a gas detection manufacturer. Subsequently, it also helps to ease the decision-making burden of choosing the right device for unique site challenges since the identified manufacturer’s solutions have been known to withstand the test of time.

What’s more, these nuances will feed into the gas detector’s total cost of ownership, making them particularly valuable for those with purchasing power to understand. These devices will provide a significantly higher return as their greater durability will make them less susceptible to breakdowns, ultimately resulting in reduced downtime, more time on tools and greater insurance for worker safety.

Having respect for greater onsite safety also means having respect for the value the equipment affords. Companies and workers who understand the importance of a sensor’s speed and respect its influence will only strengthen their safety culture and position themselves for a safer and smarter future.