The safety manager can instantly see, via his or her own smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc., which worker is using which detector. (Honeywell Industrial Safety photo)

Connect Workers and Technology for Safer, More Efficient Work Sites

Acquiring the latest software for safety management and monitoring can make a significant difference. The key is connected technology.

For oil and gas firms worldwide, acquiring the latest software for safety management and monitoring can make a significant difference—streamlining safety processes and cutting costs for maintenance and safety compliance. The key is connected technology: linking worker safety equipment with shared management software platforms. Besides protecting workers, enabling maintenance, ensuring compliance, and achieving substantial savings, petrochemical companies that employ these innovative safety solutions can realize real competitive advantages.

When companies fail to conduct operations in accordance with safety standards, they risk lost time, incident costs, and of course, worker safety. Today’s connected safety management software is designed to prevent all these problems by making safety management processes easier and more efficient, while opening up the virtual visibility of the workforce and its safety equipment.

The advent of connectivity to the world of portable gas detectors makes an excellent case in point.

The Trouble with Stand-alone Devices
The downstream oil and gas sector has long deployed sizable fleets of these detectors to protect workers from potential exposure to toxic and flammable gases. This requires some effort: Every detector must be maintained to ensure it stays in working order. Individual records must be kept (traditionally, via manual means) at considerable expenditure of time and expense.

Software has been available to track maintenance and automate some record keeping functions. However, companies frequently use a variety of these monitors, sometimes from different suppliers, to measure gases under varying conditions. So users have often employed different stand-alone software packages for each product type. This makes it difficult to collect and interpret data aggregated from varying sources.

The Integrated Software Solution
Recently, safety equipment suppliers have developed integrated software platforms to address these concerns. Connecting different devices, such as multiple types of gas detectors, these offerings provide maintenance engineers and safety managers alike with one shared, open-platform solution. So they can manage all their safety systems via one simple tool.

A common interface/visual display shows information from different types and brands of gas monitoring instrumentation. It’s intuitive and user friendly: both simple to understand and easy to use. Such a software platform simplifies tasks such as configuration, testing, and maintenance.

For safety managers, it streamlines compliance administration, generating testing, certification, incident, and other key reports with ease. Plus, an automated notification alerts the manager when a product certification will expire. For maintenance engineers, this new class of software platform provides intuitive device configuration using logical data groups; consistent procedures across all devices; and quick, easy device templates. These platforms also offer a comprehensive view of device health, consolidating calibration, bump, and event data.

Risk and Response
In perhaps their most critical function, these connected software solutions let safety managers access—in real time and from their office or other remote location—the data being collected by the portable devices worn by every worker. Example: Via Bluetooth, workers can automatically connect their portable gas detectors to their smartphones. The safety manager can then instantly see, via his or her own smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc., which worker is using which detector. Thus wireless connectivity enables managers to closely monitor the safety of each individual worker.

In addition to Bluetooth, the latest devices also support Wi-Fi, mesh, and GPS wireless communication protocols. The best new software platforms interoperate with connected devices to provide safety alerts, two-way communications, and geo-location capabilities—all of obvious help during safety incidents. Critical data such as toxic gas readings, radiation levels, alerts, and worker whereabouts can be configured for automatic wireless transmission. The safety manager can have all of the information needed to respond in real time if a worker gets injured in a remote location, immediately organizing a rescue as soon as a "man down" alert is triggered.

This connectivity can even help prevent a safety incident in the first place. For instance, if gas levels are climbing too high, the safety manager can quickly alert a worker operating in a confined space to move out of danger.

Over the longer term, detector data can be archived and organized, so safety managers can pull reports on a given population of workers (or on a single individual) and monitor the patterns of their workplace exposures to hazardous substances over time. This capability can be crucial to detecting health concerns early enough for preventive measures. For example, a worker's exposure levels over a particular shift can be monitored. If potentially harmful patterns are detected, risks can be reduced by supplying the worker with extra personal protective equipment (PPE); by modifying working procedures, durations, or locations; or by changing process machinery.

Productivity and Profitability
This new dimension of safety monitoring and compliance also can boost productivity in several ways. First, workers no longer need to stop every few minutes to send back manually gathered data; this reduces downtime. Second, workers gain new confidence that their safety equipment "has their backs," as their exposure levels are closely monitored. Third, the newest integrated software platforms provide interfaces and capabilities that give workers the ability to focus more closely on the job in hand; this enhances productivity overall.

Experts say these capabilities can significantly increase total productivity. Studies on the benefits of connected workers estimate that moving to these newer technologies can raise output by about 8 or 9 percent.

It can also cut costs by approximately 7 to 8 percent, thus increasing profitability. In industrial operations, companies can see as much as a 300-basis-point boost to their bottom lines. OSHA and the National Safety Council estimate that every $1 investment in safety yields $5 in benefits. That's a 500 percent return!

Thus, connected worker technologies enable businesses to make their workplaces safer and their operations more efficient while helping oil and gas firms reduce costly downtime and ease administrative burdens.

All these advantages add up. They can give companies that invest in connected worker safety a significant edge in a competitive marketplace.

Continuing Connectivity
With growth in technologies such as those enabling the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), connectivity in the oil and gas workplace should continue to proliferate. Connected personal gas detectors, as well as integrated safety management and monitoring software, seem certain to be critical elements in a transformation aimed at enabling a safer, more productive working world.

The expanding possibilities of connected worker technologies offer managers and executives growing opportunities to reduce risk while increasing employee protection, as well as profitability and competitive advantage.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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