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Personnel safety is of paramount importance at all times. Activities in the oil, gas and chemicals sector are not always without risk. This is the case whether the work involves scheduled maintenance, hot or cold activities or construction work in (shore) tanks, inland tankers or other vessels.

The Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act binds Dutch employers to guarantee a safe workplace for their employees. A marine chemist inspects the working environment for the potential presence of dangerous gases. SGS has a variety of experienced gas-free inspection experts working in the field. Erik Leenart and Eric Niekerk explain a little more about their experiences as gas specialists. Since 1982 they have been accredited by the authorities as certified marine chemist together with a small group of experts in the Netherlands. Erik has accordingly travelled the whole world for the supervision of various vessel salvages, and has issued many gas-free certificates outside the Netherlands. For seagoing and inland tankers, the authorities require an inspection to be carried out by a certified marine chemist before a health and safety certificate is issued. 

The dangers of gas
When entering an uninspected confined space there is a risk of suffocation, intoxication or poisoning by gas. Certain activities can also be associated with the danger of fire or explosion. With a gas-free inspection the certified marine chemist confirm that the workplace can be entered safely. “One example of the dangers of gas is during unloading seagoing containers when employees can be exposed to dangerous residual gases. These dangerous gases can originate due to the evaporation of the products in the container. This is because the load is often protected by means of added gas”, according to Eric.

Did you know?
In the oil, gas and chemicals sector there is not often mention of a gas-free expert, but rather ‘the gas doctor’. This name originated long ago when there was still no portable measuring equipment. At the time, the laboratory staff in their white coats took a sample away to the laboratory to have it analysed. The white coats soon made the association with doctors. Nowadays ‘the gas doctor’ no longer wears a white coat, but overalls and the necessary personal protective equipment.

An example from the real world
Our inspectors were recently called on board for the gas-free testing of a tanker barge before the start of welding activities. The ship had sailed as a dedicated chemicals tanker for years. The tanks had already been subjected to prior measurements carried out by the crew itself before the visit of the inspectors. In this case the law concerning compulsory measuring by a gas specialist certainly had to be applied. High values of benzene were measured that can comprise a serious health risk. Our inspectors could not approve the confined space. In general terms an extra cleaning procedure and remeasurement is sufficient, but more work appeared necessary here. The gas-free certificate was ultimately issued after ten cleaning sessions and a long period of ventilation. 

The standard measuring equipment on board only allows checking for the lower explosive limit (LEL).  This meant with the prior measurements by the crew the space could (still) not be rejected. But SGS gas specialists have specialist equipment along with the necessary knowledge, experience and equipment. Screening for toxic gases also appeared of great importance in this situation. The employees were then prevented from suffering long-term exposure to benzene vapours and their potential effects.

More information
For more information about gas-free inspections see our page. You can also contact Peter van der Burg at nl.gasdepartment@sgs.com or phone +31 88 2143444.