Much of the world’s scientific research is conducted in laboratories and research facilities. While staff working in these important establishments are creating daily medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries, keeping the scientists, technicians and staff safe is always the fundamental priority.
Modern laboratory environments utilize a wide range of gases including nitrogen, neon, argon, and helium along with various concentrations of oxygen. Scientists frequently utilize those elements as “carrier gases” since they are unreactive (or inert). An additional element, liquid nitrogen, is frequently used in cryogenics to help preserve specimens.
In all of these laboratory environments, properly monitoring oxygen in the surrounding environment is essential for the safety of the staff. Inert gases like nitrogen, neon, argon and helium will displace important oxygen content when released into the atmosphere. Should there be a leak in a laboratory, the oxygen levels can quickly drop to dangerous levels.
The normal air we breathe has an oxygen content of 20.9 percent. But should that level drop to 10 percent, that would be enough to cause physical symptoms including headaches and disorientation leading to a loss of consciousness, and in some cases death. Earlier this year, six people died from a liquid nitrogen leak in a US-food processing facility in Georgia.
According to the US Chemical Safety Board, “When leaked into the air, liquid nitrogen vaporizes into an odourless gas that’s capable of displacing oxygen. That means leaks in enclosed spaces can become deadly by pushing away breathable air.”
Not only is there a risk of there being too “little” oxygen in the room, but as more and more research involves “enriched oxygen” with increased O2 percentages of up to 24 percent, there is an increased risk for fires being started from combustible materials in the room. Enriched oxygen can also be toxic to humans with high levels causing possible nerve or brain damage.
The relative level of oxygen content in a working environment cannot be detected by smell, sight or taste alone. It’s likely that if someone was working in a compromised environment, they would not know there was a problem until it was too late.
An oxygen monitor is essential to a safe working laboratory environment for those reasons. The Analox Group offers a wide range of portable and fixed location oxygen detectors that provide audio and visual cues when oxygen levels fall below or rise above acceptable levels. Should there be a warning triggered, laboratory staff will have time to evacuate the area and take proper steps to contact authorities or correct the problem.