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The connected mobile worker of tomorrow

Author : Mike Davies, Marketing Manager, ecom instruments UK Ltd

18 December 2013

The ability to communicate quickly and effectively has become essential in today’s world. This certainly applies to the workplace, where it is important that workers are able to keep in close contact with customers and colleagues. For workers in hazardous areas this is especially vital, and manufacturers have

Where as in the past workers would often have to note down inspection results on paper to then take it back to the office and manually enter into a system, there are now ways they can harness technology to assist them in carrying out these tasks with ease. This can be done with the use of a range of technologies, not only limited to traditional two-way radios but also mobile phones and headsets that are designed to communicate in a number of ways.

Two-way radios had been the traditional method of communication in industrial environments due to their reliability and ease of use. They provide an easy way to communicate across a site with another person within close range.

Within high hazard industries, however, intrinsically safe mobile phones are becoming increasingly dominant. One of the main reasons for this is that two-way radios have a limited range, whereas mobile phones have no range restrictions, allowing workers to contact anyone worldwide to exchange information.

The most recent mobile phones also have new features that extend the effectiveness of the worker in a number of ways. Powerful cameras enable workers to take pictures and videos within hazardous areas, allowing them to photograph evidence of problems during inspections on-site and then send the images in real-time to a control centre. Operators or experts can then advise how the situation can be handled quickly and effectively. Another useful feature included with the camera is an LED flash/torch. This has a dual purpose: to allow a higher quality image and remove the need for a worker to carry a separate torch to illuminate small, darkened spaces.

The latest innovation for mobile phones is integrated Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows the user to scan RFID tags. This could be used to allow workers to check in and out of hazardous areas with their devices, thereby ensuring that every worker in the area is accounted for.

Another improvement is the addition of lone worker protection features to both two-way radios and mobile phones. Units with lone worker options typically include ‘man down’ tilt sensors, impact sensors, panic alarms and motionlessness alerts. The use of these devices helps employers offer a significantly increased level of protection for their workers in hazardous areas.

Technology such as ‘man down’ sensors and panic alarms within the devices is often connected to a back-end solution provided by a systems integrator. This allows for a tailored solution that fits the needs of the consumer and their workers. Common additions made by these integrators include a more accurate, site-specific, geo-tracking system which allows the operators to identify where the workers are more accurately than is possible with the ‘basic’ geo-targeting function available with the device. The use of an integrator can also make the man-down and panic alarm features significantly more useful and accurate.

Traditionally, the device will send a code to a predetermined series of phone numbers - then it is the responsibility of these people to de-code the co-ordinates and send help. With the use of an integrator, the co-ordinates of the ‘man down’ can be sent directly to a response centre where they are transferred directly into a map of the site. This allows for help to be sent faster and to a more precise location, giving injured workers the best possible chance of recovery.

When in hazardous areas, workers are more likely than ever to need both hands while carrying out vital tasks. This has pushed manufacturers to develop a range of headsets to pair with these mobile phones and two-way radios. Typically there are two distinct types of headset, an in-ear headset and an over-ear headset. Both variants enable clear, stable communication and protect the hearing of the user.  Noise-cancelling technology in the headsets leads to crystal clear communications in background noise of up to 100db.

Within hazardous areas, the use of headsets has given rise to a range of software designed to work with mobile computers to transfer communications via voice over IP. This feature allows for transmissions to be sent over a connection to groups of people worldwide. This gives the user the advantage of being able to quickly contact anyone with a connection for a significantly lower cost than is possible with a traditional phone call. Another key advantage to the user is the ability for them to call more than one person simultaneously to discuss any problems or findings.

Another recent innovation that has been made possible by the increase in quality and reliability of intrinsically safe headsets is the ability to dictate and have a handheld mobile computer convert the voice to text. This allows for notes to be continuously taken while carrying out inspections and then converted to text to go on file. This significantly reduces the amount of time workers are having to spend on paper work when returning to the office.

The world of communication in hazardous areas has been revolutionised by the introduction of the new technology mentioned above, and other developments include intrinsically safe Android tablets, ATEX-approved PDAs and even an iPad that is certified for use in hazardous areas.

The mobile worker of tomorrow is fully equipped to not only perform in extreme environments, but excel in them.

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