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Automation and wireless technology are changing the face of personnel protection in hazardous areas

01 August 2018

Advanced wireless gas detection technologies and computerised personal protection equipment solutions are proving transformational in terms of delivering safety, efficiency and cost benefits in on- and offshore industrial worksites. This article from Draeger UK looks at some of the latest personnel protection technologies available for use in the high hazard industries.

Traditional, hard-wired systems, which were often installed as part of the initial commissioning of an asset and subsequently upgraded, are now being replaced with wireless systems which do not require expensive and inefficient interruption to day-to-day works.

These include portable devices which work alongside and provide backup for permanent systems in the event of a breakdown.

Fast hydrocarbon IR gas detection systems with extremely low power consumption are now available which can respond in under five seconds in highly demanding and hazardous settings.

The latest products offer reduced design and engineering time, material procurement costs, installation time, minimised manpower requirements and onsite flexibility without associated re-engineering costs. Power packs typically run for up to 24 months, with the ability to be replaced in a hazardous area without a hot work permit.

Wearable and portable systems improve safety through expanded coverage

Wearable gas detection technology has undergone significant advances in the last five years. Traditional user-worn systems simply monitor for, and on detection of gas sound an alarm to warn personnel to move away from the hazardous area they are operating in.

Wirelessly-networked systems which interconnect now provide an additional level of assurance, with wearable monitors and hand-carried, free-standing onsite monitors working together to form a perimeter around personnel as they complete workscopes in any location.
Wearable detectors reliably identify combustible gases and vapours, as well as O2, CO, NO2, SO2 and H2S, with low operational costs.

These wearable devices can form part of a unique area monitoring system when paired with fixed or portable monitors, which are positioned where gas hazards are expected. The effect is to extend the gas detection zone beyond the area immediately surrounding personnel, improving safety margins.

Wireless fenceline

Portable units can be automatically interconnected to form a wireless fenceline. Each of these will indicate when air is free of toxic and combustible gases but on detection of a hazard, will provide visual and aural alarms to ensure rapid evacuation can take place.

When networked, the first unit detecting an issue transmits to all interconnected equipment – with the visual indicators highlighting to personnel in the area the exact location of the detection.

The most advanced of these units, which are rechargeable battery-powered and capable of continuous operation for 120 hours, can send data on detections and other vital information to QHSE management via SMS and email, providing another layer of assurance in terms of safety auditing of gas risk in any industrial location.

The addition of networking capability in gas detection provides a critical level of cover and reporting for people working in hazardous environments where, in previous technology generations, alarms simply sounded without providing data .

Vending systems

Providing safety equipment to workers in any on or offshore environment, particularly those requiring PPE for hazardous environment operations, involves important interactions with safety processes, systems and management.

Automated vending and equipment usage systems provide safety managers with a method of dispensing vital gas detection hardware and PPE using a controlled, recordable and auditable process.

This tracks the usage of wearables such as personal gas detection monitors, breathing apparatus and other associated equipment, which must be regularly tested and serviced to ensure reliability.

Personnel are handed a barcode which allows them to collect their gas detection and protection equipment from the system as part of their mobilisation to a worksite.

Based on stored user information, the system will identify which products the employee may require, displaying them on an intuitive touchscreen. It will then dispense only the products requested from that list.

It also processes returns, developing an analysis of items’ usage and delivering data to QHSE management, ensuring that servicing and refurbishment, or removal from service of items which have passed their use-by date, are carried out promptly.

Software which manages the dispensing lockers in these automated systems is coded to ensure that an item which has been returned and not yet serviced cannot be re-issued to another person.

That ensures that operations teams have assurance that equipment which has been calibrated and is ready for use will always be provided to those presenting a barcode before reporting for work.

In situations where items are not returned within an allotted time, the system can also alert QHSE management, to ensure that action can be taken to recover the equipment.

While principally designed to manage dispensing, track usage and improve reliability, these systems’ configuration significantly saves on time – with the dispensing of an LEL meter, for example, previously handled by stores colleagues in up to 20 minutes, completed in less than 2.5 minutes.

In previous operational deployments of the system, at an average dispense-rate of 18 per day, using the Rental Robot introduced time efficiencies of 3.75 hours per day, running to an equivalent of 182 eight-hour working days in one year.

These automated vending systems allow workers to focus on the correct completion and signing-over of permits to work, eliminating unnecessary, often multiple requests for equipment, and reduce the risk of disabled equipment being used.

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