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Connected safety: a digital future

Author : David Head, Draeger Safety UK

01 July 2022

The concept of technological connectivity boosting outcomes is not a new one in industry. The term Industry 4.0 can be traced back as far as 2011, although its widespread use took a few more years to catch on.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

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More than 15 years later, the ideas and technologies that were prophesised as part of the fourth industrial revolution have indeed brought far-reaching benefits to many areas of industry. From big data and cloud computing to predictive maintenance, Industry 4.0 has revolutionised manufacturing and industry. Yet there remains one area within business – across many different sectors – where its full potential is yet to be fully adopted and embraced: safety.

Why is this?

The potential for Industry 4.0 technologies in the safety sphere are significant. From real-time monitoring of hazardous environments, to interconnecting systems which communicate and respond to one another to safeguard personnel across a site, the applications are wide-ranging.

Take for example the topic of gas safety. Gas detection and monitoring has long-been a key priority for many sectors – from food and beverage companies using gases to carbonate drinks or perhaps to extend the shelf life of package goods, to scientific research and development facilities exploring applications involving new energies such as hydrogen. Despite increasing attention by the Health and Safety Executive, which outlined plans in its 2021/22 Business Plan plans to revise its Gas Safety (Management) Regulations, until recently there has been relatively little adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies to tackle the issues presented.

However, new innovative technologies in this space have made significant progress over recent months, and early adopters are seeing significant benefits.

Consider as an example a utility company. Such a company’s operations (across both clean and wastewater processing sites) would typically involve the need to monitor a range of gases including chlorine, oxygen and methane.

A gas safety system is vital – primarily to ensure the safety of engineers and other personnel, but also to ensure the safety of plant equipment.

As part of a gas safety solution, portable gas monitoring devices would be issued to all field engineers – potentially several hundred individual devices. Using new innovation in this space, a truly connected smart safety system can be created to link all of these devices.

This offers a number of key benefits, including live monitoring; whereby key information is displayed in real time via an online user interface. This interface is available to anyone who has the appropriate permissions, meaning that workers on site, or managers in a central location, can pinpoint the position of their colleagues and the status of their gas safety at any given moment. If an alarm is activated by any individual device, colleagues and managers would be immediately alerted to the risk, and receive the key information displayed on the management dashboard. Furthermore, emergency services can be granted access to the data which allows them to manage an emergency situation, if needed, and all data is also logged for later analysis.

This means that hazards can be identified more quickly; countermeasures can be initiated faster, and correlations and anomalies can be analysed more easily to identify root causes. This is important in improving outcomes not only in post-event analysis, but in real-time through live monitoring.

Another key benefit of this type of digitisation is that it offers opportunities for more efficient asset management, simplifying a range of processes that were previously more complex, and centralising management, whilst decentralising execution.

This makes device management and compliance far more straightforward, as data in relation to operational status and testing and calibration results can be collected and accessed from anywhere, with the ability for analysis to be performed directly. Device updates can also be distributed centrally with ease, notifications can be sent to users, and a complete documentation history for each gas detection device is automatically stored on the connected system.

Increased transparency, easier management and reduced potential for human error are key outcomes of such a smart system, leading to significantly improved safety to life, and also cost-savings at the same time.

David Head, Draeger Safety UK
David Head, Draeger Safety UK

In this example, and many others, Covid has served as a catalyst to drive digital innovation when it comes to gas safety, with changes to working styles prompting a more urgent need for remotely-accessible real-time safety data. At the same time, pressures on budgets mean that any new safety solutions or technology must be able to prove itself financially.

Savvy companies are increasingly recognising, however, that the cheapest up-front cost doesn’t always mean the highest quality product – vital in a safety-critical scenario. Or indeed the most efficient total lifetime cost. This is particularly true when you consider that digital systems allow for easier bolt-on of new or additional elements to an overall system.

Well-designed and forward-thinking connected and digital safety can deliver on all fronts with the right planning and consideration of what is needed both now and in the future. But it is vital that good training, and a thorough understanding of such technologies is well-embedded as part of any new roll-out. Without this, there is a real risk that the full benefits may not be realised.

With Health and Safety professionals coming under increasing pressure to generate better safety insight and information to better inform safety policies and approaches, there is a huge demand for safety data. Whilst this may feel challenging, advances in safety technologies are making this increasingly possible, and straightforward.

As connected and digital safety is starting to become increasingly better understood and harnessed in industry, and alongside the range of operational benefits, it heralds new potential to safeguard those exposed to risks at work.

About the author:

David Head is a Senior Marketing Manager at Draeger Safety UK. With over fifteen years’ experience in the safety industry, he has a particular interest in how Industry 4.0 technologies can help companies to improve safety outcomes for employees. He is one of the lead specialists involved in Dräger’s annual ‘Safety at Work’ report.

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