Industrial Safety / Electrical Safety / Arc Flash

Avoiding electrical hazards: Stay safe, not sorry - Part 3: How context-aware technology is helping protect workers

This month’s three-story package covers electrical safety developments you need to know about, from OSHA updates to the impact of the IIoT.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Read Part 1: Compelled to stay safe in confined spaces

Read Part 2: How the IIoT is changing electrical safety

Improved worker safety is touted as one of the leading benefits of using context-aware technologies. But how exactly can context-aware tech keep workers safe?

For one, it can keep organizations from putting workers potentially in harm’s way unnecessarily. David Huie, a senior product marketing manager at Bentley, describes an application of Bentley’s ContextCapture digital photography technology, which French power company ERDF uses to take pictures of assets at substations when sensors at a particular station detect a possible issue.

The combination of real-time monitoring sensors and digital photography allows ERDF to validate and verify problems without having to send personnel out to do so. When workers are involved, “There are high risks of making bad decisions; there are safety issues,” Huie says.

Helping workers avoid electrical safety risks by keeping them from unnecessary travel is responsible and can benefit the bottom line.

In the context of a factory or warehouse, sensors that can track the real-time movement of assets – inanimate or animate – within the facility can help workers avoid hazards. Robotic vision-enhanced self-guided forklifts, for example, can sense motion nearby and stop movement to prevent a collision with another vehicle or with a worker.

Biosensors and RFID tags on workers, too, can help workers whose roles expose them to environmental hazards be smarter about their working conditions and alert supervisors to potential health issues. For workers in an oven room, for instance, wearable gas monitors that also track workers’ heart rate and body temperature and send data to a control room (and/or a supervisor’s mobile device) can trigger alarms if a worker’s temperature spikes to dangerous levels.

“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, when you get hot, come out here,’ or using the ACGIH guidelines … you can actually measure a guy’s heart rate and core temperature remotely so you can pull him out,” says David Miller, senior safety director at ATS. It’s a safer approach than following a one-size-fits-all standard of X minutes in a heat environment followed by Y minutes in a cool room, he says.

An in the event of an emergency in which workers need to be evacuated quickly, RFID tags that track workers’ real-time location actually can help firefighters and other first responders be more efficient in their work, Miller notes. “When the fire department shows up, if you can’t account for everybody, they go into search-and-rescue mode as opposed to firefighting mode, so you kind of waste time,” he says.

Still, there’s an awareness gap especially among procurement and operations personnel when it comes to recognizing some of the benefits available through context-aware technologies, says Tim Spang, vice president of operations at vision-guided vehicle maker Seegrid. “I don’t know that they’re always looking at the impact (these technologies) have to the safety of the environment and the additional efficiencies they gain by reducing some of the manual labor” in their facilities, he says.

Read Part 1: Compelled to stay safe in confined spaces

Read Part 2: How the IIoT is changing electrical safety