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Gas Detection and PPE in the Pharmaceutical Industry

The types of gases that are commonly found in pharmaceutical are formaldehyde, oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The pharmaceutical industry involves the manufacturing and production of medicinal and pharma drugs.  This work may be done in laboratories or factories and typical hazards that workers may also be exposed to are noise, dust and gas exposure.  

What gases are found in the pharmaceutical industry?


Formaldehyde is a colourless, smelly gas that is flammable at room temperature.  It can be used in the sterilisation process within the pharmaceutical industry.  This may be done in an enclosed environment so the use of PPE such as respiratory protection will help to filter out any chemicals and if powered air devices are used then a steady stream of fresh air can be provided through a hood.

Nitrogen Testing In the Pharmaceutical Industry

Nitrogen (N2) can be used to control levels of oxygen in a laboratory.  In terms of typical tasks that are carried out in the pharmaceutical industry involving nitrogen these could be during the packaging process or for transferring products.  Nitrogen will be used to take oxygen away from the packaging before it’s sealed, to ensure the product is preserved.  Due to this the use of an oxygen deficiency monitor is very important. This will be able to detect oxygen levels within a laboratory, plant or utility room.  Fixed gas detection systems are suitable for monitoring an area or room, whereas a portable gas detector is designed to be worn on the person within your breathing area. Portable gas detectors such as the BW Clip, Solo or the Drager Pac 6500 should only be worn as a personal protective device.

What Occupational Hazards Occur In Pharmaceuticals?

Serious effects can occur from toxic gases, vapours, or liquids from inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. Asphyxiation can occur due to toxic atmospheres, resulting in low oxygen levels. Additionally, there is a risk of explosions happening because of sparks, the character of some chemicals, or high temperatures. So, it is vital that risk assessments and rigid processes are put in place to mitigate these risks.


Additionally, there may be increased exposure to noise, potential for eye and face injuries, working at height risks and dangerous exposure to skin.

What Safety Measures Should Be In Place For Protecting Against Gases?

PPE that may be suitable for certain tasks in the pharmaceutical industry are powered air respirators (PAPR), facemasks with filters and escape sets.  PAPR will provide wearers with a constant flow of air over a set period of time, like a work shift.  They can either wear a mask or a hood, depending on circumstances and air will be fed to them through a blower unit and hose.  The type of filter used for PAPR and facemasks will depend on the task in hand and also the type of gas present. For example for exposure to Formaldehyde gas Drager recommend using a B (P3) filter. Local workplace limits should be acknowledged.  Escape breathing apparatus sets can be used should a person need to evacuate from a confined space such as a reactor vessel, containment room or storage and mixing tanks.

What Safety Measures Should Be In Place For Detecting Gases?

Careful consideration must be taken into what measures are appropriate for gas detection in a pharmaceutical environment.  Nitrogen gas (N2) has no odour and no colour so cannot be detected by human senses.  As Nitrogen is an inert gas it's not necessarily toxic but can dangerously reduce oxygen levels, therefor a personal gas detector worn around your breathing area would alarm in this instance. However, a fixed oxygen depletion gas system would be more beneficial for a pharmaceutical environment, such as a laboratory, as it can monitor levels in the entire room.

For the detection of formaldehyde, a way of spot-checking workplace exposure of this gas could be done through gas detection tubes.  This is a short-term and investigative way of checking a leakage or the analysis of air in any shafts or small space within a pharmaceutical environment.  Tubes would not be suitable in an environment where there are other substances in the atmosphere, they are for analysis purposes only.

Products for Detection

Our recommended multi-gas detectors some of which can be used for confined space pre-entry, personal protection, or area monitoring. For confined space pre-entry checks, it is recommended that a pumped monitor is used. The use of a pumped monitor allows for a sampling tube to be fed into the confined space from the outside, confirming it is safe for workers to enter.

Products for Protection

Our recommended personal protection equipment.  When choosing facemasks and filters we always recommend following Drager Safety's guide to choosing one to suit either your application or according to the gas present.  You can read the guides on our website - choose by application or by gas or vapour.

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