Plant & Works Engineering
Make the right connection to safety
Published:  18 November, 2016

As industrial operations become ever more challenging, complex and dispersed, safety threats can emerge suddenly and without warning. Never has it been more important for businesses to access real-time safety intelligence. Armed with such critical data, safety managers can make better informed decisions that protect workers and prevent a major incident, maximise uptime and increase productivity. Mahesh Joshi, European product marketing leader for gas detection at Honeywell Industrial Safety, reports.

Imagine workers are operating in a hazardous environment. It could be carrying out high-risk equipment maintenance on an oil and gas platform. It might be a confined space in a chemical plant. Suppose there was a toxic gas leak. How would the safety manager monitoring that team remotely know which workers had been exposed to the leaking gas and where they were located? More than likely, they wouldn’t have the critical data they need to prevent a crisis from unfolding.

Each year, industrial companies have to deal with safety incidents in high-risk environments, whether it’s hot works, confined spaces or an emergency response. The direct costs to businesses can be eye-watering, but the price tag for failing to act before an incident becomes a crisis can be even more costly. Safety incidents adversely affect corporate reputation, employee confidence and productivity. Many companies are reactive to safety incidents because they don’t have the technology to hand. Armed with critical, real-time intelligence, they could pursue a more proactive approach to monitoring and identifying the threats, steering away from an imminent crisis.

Incidents, however, don’t necessarily have to be life-threatening to damage businesses. Many companies are seeing a significant loss in production each year due to unplanned downtime. In many cases, this is because they don’t have the real-time data that is needed to make the right decisions in the moment. However, the instant awareness that real-time technology provides would enable the business to correct any small problems before they become costly and crippling to operations. Furthermore, the data enables safety managers to build a picture over time, which in turn allows them to control and manage a situation effectively as it evolves.

Companies also need to make sure that they are complying with safety regulations. A failure to meet the legal requirements can lead to hefty fines and even a temporary shutdown of operations. When workers are operating in hazardous environments, tracking down compliance data on portable gas detectors and other safety devices can be incredibly time-consuming. Often, it takes hours, days or weeks of manual assessments, reporting and other procedures. The reality is that most companies don’t have a way to instantly determine the compliance status of a certain worker or zone.

Connected safety

A connected safety approach that combines wireless portable gas detectors with location data and software allows safety managers to remotely monitor readings instantly, whether it’s toxic gases, oxygen deficiency, flammable gases, particulates, radiation and other hazards. The critical data received means they can immediately determine the location and severity of an incident. It also means that they can find out if a man is down and make better decisions on how to rescue the worker and potentially evacuate others that might be at risk.

With this technology to hand, safety managers can use the software to check the compliance status of each device at any time. By being able to automate safety administration, safety managers can, for instance, scroll through the records of a worker’s gas detectors and analyse the gas readings that the individual has been exposed to over the previous weeks. This critically important information can then be used to inform how safety is managed going forward. Not only that, but it also frees the supervisor up from needing to compile time-consuming reports.

Connected safety solutions can be used in a myriad of environments. Take lone workers who often spend days operating in remote areas. By equipping the individual with a wireless portable gas detector and a hazardous area smartphone, real-time safety and location data can be sent via existing cellular infrastructure to remote monitoring software. This critically important data can then be accessed from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. Should an incident happen, immediate help can be requested. The data gleaned can also be used to alert others, safeguarding other workers who will be directed away from hazardous situations.

Alternatively, connected safety can enhance operations for small teams working in a confined space such as a duct or vat. In some confined space scenarios, workers can use wireless technology to report gas detector readings back to their supervisor based remotely. This removes the need to stop work every few minutes to send the information back manually and reduces downtime. The technology can also be used to send real-time threat readings to an attendant standing outside, who can monitor their gas detectors and keep track of any hazards. In the event of a man down, they can send immediate rescue.

In the event of an emergency, safety intelligence can also enhance safety for emergency response. Take, for example, first responders arriving at a chemical facility to deal with a large spill. Centralised command and control needs to maintain real-time situational awareness of what’s happening on the ground. A connected safety solution can provide real-time monitoring for multiple wireless detectors for up to several days, so that firefighters and clean-up crews dealing with chemical spills can be protected remotely.

Importantly, developments in connected safety solutions also offer scalability. If a company needs around-the-clock monitoring for an entire plant, the technology can provide the highest level of real-time safety awareness. By using a permanent wireless infrastructure for monitoring everyday operations, safety managers can track worker location and communicate two-way with workers on the ground.

Recent advances in gas detection technology have resulted in the industry’s first wireless four-gas monitor to operate with all of the most essential wireless communication protocols – Bluetooth, Mesh, GPS and Wi-Fi. Workers can use a single device with wireless and non-wireless capabilities to monitor gas hazards in real-time at remote locations.

Developments in the software applications are also providing new opportunities. It is now possible to use a hazardous area certified smartphone via a cellular network. Where companies do not use wireless gas detectors and/or they don’t have Wi-Fi installed, the end user can achieve wireless connectivity without the expense of a private network. Equally important, if a worker is using Wi-Fi to communicate back to their safety manager and they step into a blackspot on the site or there are holes in the Mesh radio coverage, an industrial-grade smartphone and app will provide real-time visibility of their movements.

All these technological innovations demonstrate that the connected solutions approach is revolutionising the way companies manage safety and productivity out in the field. Developments in wireless gas detectors and portable safety devices, combined with cutting-edge software have enabled this to happen, providing real-time monitoring for businesses. Ultimately, companies are now in a position to protect their workers more effectively.

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