The safety opportunity enabled by IIoT

June 11, 2021
In this Big Picture Interview, new technology developments are creating a labor force of smart, connected workers from ops to EH&S.

Tony Downes is the global process safety advisor for Honeywell’s Performance Materials and Technologies division. He has been involved with process safety since 1979 when – while working at DuPont – he helped investigate an explosion due to a human error. Tony has launched process safety programs at Bayer Canada and Westlake Group and has worked at the corporate level in FMC and Honeywell to improve many aspects of their HSSE and Process Safety programs, and is one of the first to receive the CCPS-Certified process safety professional credential.

PS: How is modern technology making the connection between safety and reliability more visible, from the plant floor to the C-suite?

TD: As the principles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or Industry 4.0 – become widely prevalent, leading industrial organizations are adopting a new generation of environmental, health and plant safety solutions to drive employee health and safety and deliver secure and sustainable operations. A safer work environment is critical not only for the well-being of personnel but also for improving productivity levels.

With the proliferation of Industry 4.0 and IIoT, more data flowing from the field is needed by different groups within the organization and expected in different formats. Some technologies offer safety dashboards in which field-side safety system data is correlated to the C-suite offerings improving workforce efficiency while achieving safety and compliance management without compromise.

Forward-thinking solutions now exist to correlate information coming directly from the field, through the control room and beyond to the enterprise level, that can help:

  • identify KPIs from available data to create actionable insight
  • provide real-time visibility of data, often stranded in siloed systems, to stakeholders in a user-friendly manner – and at the right time
  • set up customizable dashboards specific to users and their role requirements
  • associate critical data and expertise leading to intelligent, actionable insight.

PS: The annual list of top ten OSHA safety violations is pretty static from year to year, suggesting that certain safety challenges are universal. In your experience, do small or medium-sized plants have different safety challenges than large or very large plants?

TD: Small or medium-sized plants can often be more flexible and have the agility within the organization to make decisions and necessary adjustments. Large plants have complex safety challenges and change management is often a bigger challenge, but they tend to have more resources available. Plant-specific solutions that are scalable from simple to complex are available to accommodate these varying customer needs.

Big Picture Interview

This article is part of our monthly Big Picture Interview column. Read more interviews from our monthly Big Picture series.

Digital transformation of the industrial workforce can offer greater efficiencies and ultimately will lead to a more prescriptive approach to plant and worker safety. It involves optimizing safety from many different aspects, from improving processes and workflows to strengthening the safety culture. Off-the-shelf solutions for e-Permits represent best practices based on broader experience and are well suited for small or medium plants. Bigger plants with more formal processes may need customizable, flexible, and scalable safety offerings.

PS: Describe the ideal working relationship between maintenance, operations, and EH&S.

TD: Integration of plant and EH&S solutions is a valuable element of Industry 4.0, as are initiatives related to industrial hygiene and safety. The goal is to drive workforce efficiencies as opposed to reductions. New technology developments are creating a labor force of smart, connected workers while driving productivity and increasing safety across the plant floor.

Permit to work is a mutual contract between EH&S, operators, and mechanics. Mechanics need to define their tasks and operators have to make it safe for them to perform their tasks, while EH&S does the audit to confirm that tasks are properly and safely executed at site – an example could be a confined space entry. EH&S also oversees employees’ hurdles and tries to work along with operators to overcome challenges and provide a safer work environment. 

This story originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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