Safety is getting smarter

Sheila Kennedy says high-tech wearables, monitoring tools, and more keep people and plants secure.

By Sheila Kennedy

Safety concerns abound in industrial organizations and utilities, and employers are under intense pressure to minimize the risks. Fortunately, new technologies and systems are available to enhance the intelligence of traditional safety approaches. New smart safety solutions help mitigate electrical and environmental hazards, make process safety systems more intuitive, and make it easier to protect your people and property from intruders. The internet of things (IoT) will only enable further innovations in this area.

Electrical safety

“Smart safety” is defined by John Campbell, engineering manager at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), as “taking full advantage of available technologies and combining them in ways that measurably improve personnel safety while reducing risk to equipment.” SEL is incorporating this approach in its power industry solutions.

The SEL-751 Feeder Protection Relays and SEL-849 Motor Management Relays are examples of this strategy. “Combining arc-flash detection and fast overcurrent protection into a protective relay provides fast, secure arc-flash protection and incident energy reduction in one integrated system,” Campbell says, calling it an economical way to improve plant safety.

Another example is the MP8000 Bluetooth Overload Relay for motors and pumps from Littelfuse. It makes fault codes available from a safe distance in a smartphone app, protecting workers from electrical risks that are normally mitigated with personal protective equipment.

“When workers interact with a motor or pump protection relay to read a fault code or to troubleshoot, traditionally they must open the door to the control panel, exposing themselves to arc-flash and shock hazards. A Bluetooth-enabled relay mitigates this risk, as workers can interact with the relay up to 30 feet away using an app on their smartphone,” says Charles Newcomb, senior product manager at Littelfuse.

Environmental safety

Intelligent wearable safety devices protect employees who work in hazardous or remote environments. With the Accenture Life Safety Solution, individuals wear a monitor that includes a multigas detector, a panic button, and a mechanism to find a missing/unaccounted-for person. Lack of motion (“man-down”) conditions will also generate an alarm. Safety incidents are automatically reported.

“The solution consists of providing workers with wearable personal multisensor devices fitted with an RFID tag visible to the WiFi infrastructure,” says Felipe Olivares, senior manager of process and innovation performance at Accenture. “The location of these devices, and other safety events, is then monitored from a control room, a networked computer, or an iOS app.”

Forklift truck accidents are unfortunately commonplace, but new technologies may change that. The integration and implementation of smart forklifts equipped with advanced safeguarding technologies is a trend noticed at the National Forklift Exchange.

“Many of today’s cutting-edge forklift applications feature real-time inventory and driver tracking interfaces that are extraordinarily accurate,” says Tom Reddon, forklift specialist at the National Forklift Exchange. “These intelligence mechanisms have been proven to drive OSHA compliance, productivity maximization, and fleet optimization.”

Functional safety

Safety systems can shut down a plant, but a smart safety system that uses Big Data can also prevent plant shutdowns. Safety systems are intended to take the plant to a safe state in case of a process event; however, while large amounts of beneficial data are resident in HIMA safety systems, it has traditionally gone unused, says Paul Smith, director of engineering and services at HIMA Americas.

“We developed a solution to transform process, diagnostic, and instrument data into beneficial information – to make plants safer, more secure, and more efficient,” says Smith. “The solution includes critical alarms, sequence of events, diagnostics, and the use of HART data in a safety system.”

Safety through surveillance

Cameras help protect facilities by adding additional “eyes” to watch for intrusions, but sometimes other senses are needed, says Andres Vigren, product manager at Axis Communications. “Thermal cameras provide images based on the heat that always radiates from any object, person or vehicle, giving them the power to see through complete darkness and in any type of weather,” he explains.

Combining Axis thermal cameras and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras with video analytics improves perimeter protection and provides visual verification for alarms. Modern applications include open IP systems with network cameras that feed video wirelessly for real-time monitoring. Alarms are sent to the control room and smart devices, and the video is stored redundantly in the cloud.

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