Sensing the future: IoT and workplace safety
Regardless of the size of an operation, there is space for technology to improve its safety and general efficiency. Sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) can be instrumental in facilitating these goals, and indeed are already changing the nature of workplace safety.
There is no doubt that the safety of workers should come first within any organisation. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, new safety threats have crystallised across labour-intensive operations, making many safety controls even more expensive to execute (albeit absolutely necessary).
And therein lies part of the challenge. With rising costs across the board, executive teams across various industries now have to carefully balance safety with profitability.
That’s where technology comes in. The advancements in technologies such as sensors and the IoT offer up an alternative to costly safety measures. Even digitisation of simple checklists can have an outsized impact on a company’s operations.
Fuelling the construction industry
A construction site, with a large amount of plant, equipment and labour on-site, requires strict safety, compliance, time and budget constraints and is a highly process-driven operation.
More often than not, under current work methods, fuel tanks on-site are visited at a set time (eg, twice a week) by a worker who reports a value to the plant manager. The tanks have sensors that visually indicate a value, or the tanks have to be manually opened and checked. With a connected sensor, the model becomes more accurate and less risky — the tank reports its status permanently into a system that the plant manager can access. Leaks can be detected and alerts are sent when such an event is identified, without having to put workers at risk.
Within the construction industry, safety issues usually occur when corners are cut — and this generally boils down to increased time pressures, meaning that solutions which remove time wasters across a project also have a positive result on safety outcomes. And in that space, digital technologies like online forms, plant and machinery telematics, as well as other environmental monitoring solutions (dust and noise, for example) are all solutions that assist in providing a safer site. They speed up workflows and processes and remove the need for a lot of human intervention.
Take the induction of a piece of earthmoving equipment on a construction site as another example. An excavator is transported to site on a semitrailer — on arrival to site the excavator, the delivery vehicle and the driver need to be inducted. This all takes time to complete, meaning the asset is not operational on the site when it gets there. It may take hours until someone can start working, meaning the time pressures can then increase risk to the safety of the operation.
Now, if the telematics of the excavator are properly linked to the asset data (servicing history, user guides and so on), then an online induction form could be pre-populated — saving some precious time for the project down the track. If the delivery truck itself has telematics that can be fed to the site manager, then preparations can be made in advance for the arrival of the asset, saving further time across the chain.
Once the excavator has been inducted onsite, it also needs to be operated by specific resources — if it is fitted with a driver identification module, then the operator’s credentials can be interrogated when the asset is started. An online pre-start checklist can also be addressed to that operator to ensure the correct visual and operational checks have been done. Flags can be set up for any non-compliance and therefore risks are averted.
While these examples demonstrate how IoT, in its purest definition of interconnected sensors and systems, can improve the safety of construction sites, the great news is that this remains true across any industry, in its context.
Putting IoT into practice in food processing
A meat processing facility that operates a temperature-controlled environment, for example, has a range of compressors and mechanical machinery it operates, alongside assets like forklifts and pallet trucks. Without these assets, the facility has to revert to manual operations, which has a direct impact on the exertion levels of the teams.
Being able to monitor the status of these assets (battery charge, impact, rollover, for example), as well as ensuring compliance to food safety controls by registering temperature through the use of sensors, ensures that businesses can minimise the operational and safety risk across the facility. Not only does the temperature control ensure the safety of the product for consumption, but in case of a failure that could result in a gas leak, it has a direct impact on the safety of the facility’s workers.
A solution for every organisation
There are many benefits that can be driven by the proper deployment of technologies like the IoT, and it is not simply a gimmick for the big end of town. No matter the size of the operation, these technologies can add value to safety.
The data needs to be generated, analysed and interconnected with the way the operation works. This may seem daunting at first, but the tools exist today to make operations safer without incurring the extensive costs and risks of manual controls. It is only a matter of getting started.
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