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Gas detection: The benefits of the IIoT

11 September 2017

Exposure to toxic gases is one of the biggest risks workers face, especially those who work remotely and or alone. Prabhu Soundarrajan, global connected worker leader for Honeywell Industrial Safety explains how IIoT technology enables workers to use their smartphone infrastructure to bring connectivity to gas detection devices

In sectors such as downstream oil and gas, workers often have to enter challenging and hazardous environments, namely confined spaces, where they may be exposed to a mix of flammable and toxic gases that can build up very quickly, with fatal consequences. Every year in the UK about 15 people are killed and more are seriously injured while working in confined spaces. 

Safety managers have had limited options to protect workers from exposure to toxic gas. Portable gas detectors will warn of a gas emergency but not of biomedical dangers such as abnormal body temperature and blood pressure, which can be early signs of an imminent threat. More importantly, portable gas detectors alert only the worker; safety managers remain unaware of the immediate emergency. A panic button is of limited use if a worker is down and is unconscious or unable to activate the alarm. 

Another key challenge for safety managers is ensuring that gas detectors are inspected and maintained on a regular basis and compliant with regulations. Keeping records of all these operations manually can be time consuming and costly. Compliance with worker safety legislation costs the European chemical and petrochemical industries an estimated €2bn/year, which accounts for 24% of the sector’s total investment in regulatory compliance.

The opportunity to overcome all these challenges lies in the ability to collect, transfer and analyse data on a worker’s health and safety instantly and effectively, which is where the smartphone and connectivity come in.  

Bluetooth connectivity now enables a worker to automatically connect their portable gas detector or other device to their smartphone. Wireless connectivity then enables the safety manager to monitor each individual worker’s safety closely. It is possible to access critical data such as toxic gas readings, man-down alerts and the worker’s location, which are automatically transmitted. In addition to Bluetooth, these devices also support Wi-Fi, Mesh, and GPS wireless communication protocols to ensure that lone workers stay connected even if there is no network coverage. 

Armed with intelligent health and safety data, the safety manager can immediately alert a worker operating in a confined space to step out of a dangerous situation or send immediate rescue if a ‘man down’ alert is received. The data is also stored so that safety managers can run reports on a population of workers, or an individual worker, and monitor their exposure to hazardous substances over time. This is key to tackling ill health before it’s too late, with data informing decisions about working patterns so that, for example, a worker’s exposure levels over a particular shift are reduced.   

The newest generation of portable gas detectors integrates wearable biometric monitors to provide safety managers with comprehensive real-time awareness of the health status of a worker. Intelligent harnesses are able to measure personal vital statistics - such as heart rate, body temperature, breathing rate and posture - and immediately make these available to safety managers via portable wireless transmitters. 

A ‘connected’ approach to gas detection also enables companies to streamline compliance management, helping enhance efficiency and productivity. Some of the latest safety management software platforms simplify configuration, testing and maintenance of portable gas detectors, generating testing, certification, incident and other key reports at a glance. They also feature automated notifications to alert the safety manager if a product certification is expiring and offer a comprehensive view of device health by consolidating calibration, bump test and event data. 

To simplify compliance further, smartphone apps enable both safety manager and worker to verify, at a glance, if they have the right permit or training to access a hazardous environment that poses the risk of asphyxiation or exposure to toxic or combustible gases, as is found in a confined space entry.

An advantage of adopting a connected safety approach is its scalability, meaning that it can be applied to safety equipment beyond gas detectors, including PPE.

 
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