Many years ago, life was simple, or so it seemed. Something had to be done; the proper forms were filled out and we would disappear somewhere in the plant and come back later when the job was completed or left in a state where we could get on with it tomorrow. Aside from the occasional visit or radio message, we were left to ourselves, and depending on the job, we might not reappear in our usual resting area for quite some time.
Of course, the world has moved on. Industrial accidents and improved legislation have taken care of it. Responsibility for safety continues to be pushed ever more strongly into the purview of the top management of each company, with fewer and fewer resources for them to delegate the work to HSE, quality, reliability, operations and the myriad of other departments involved.
This is demonstrated by the recent publication of the ISO 31000 standard, which puts the responsibility directly in the hands of the executives of any business.
But what does this mean for workers? It’s interesting to note that on-site fatalities generally fall into three main categories, each contributing around a third of the overall total. In simpler terms, these are:
- Trips and falls
- Human error/unsafe acts and contact with moving objects (vehicles, lifting and moving objects and equipment)
In many ways, these are the same risks that our ancestors had to take into account. It could be argued that while there have been changes, especially in high-risk industries, most of the industry’s focus has been on improving plant capacity and efficiency. Often the result has been a reduction in the number of workers, leaving everyone with less time to do more.
In many parts of the world, while there have been great advances in technological capability and productivity, worker safety has lagged behind.
It’s an unfortunate truth that’s hard to swallow, but one only has to spend a small amount of time on media sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to see regular examples of unsafe acts, often caught on camera by willing participants.
Not all of these unsafe acts are filmed in less developed countries. If we consider the statistics from the 2019 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in the US, we get the following data:
- Slip, trip and fall deaths were up 11 percent from the previous year. This implies that we strive to mitigate particularly simple risks.
- Workers age 55 and older accounted for 38 percent of deaths. Eight percent more than in 2018, so the experience only takes you so far
- Exposure to harmful substances or environments was the highest number ever recorded, with 642 deaths
As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The question is why has security been left behind? After all, the ideal methodology for any business should align with the SQDC rules, in that we don’t do anything until it’s safe to work, then we make sure the quality is right, and once it’s in your place, we get the correct delivery and only then. we should see how to make a business more profitable.
The truth is that security has not been left behind, and there are many solutions available that allow you to work smarter through the use of technology. However, there is a reluctance to use them for a multitude of reasons, including cost concerns, new ways of working and training, concerns about additional time, and often an existing culture of acceptance that is almost certainly the hardest thing to change in any industry.
However, if we look at costs from a different perspective and consider data from the 2019/20 health and safety statistics published by the UK HSE, we see that:
- 1.6 million people suffer from work-related illnesses
- 693,000 workers suffered an injury at work according to the labor force survey
- 38.8 million days were lost due to work-related health problems and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2019/20
- The estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions in 2018/19 was £16.2 billion
In addition, those responsible for environmental crimes, which often go hand in hand with a lack of security awareness, reached record levels in 2020, with 862 sanctions issued, totaling £254.7 million with an average size of £ 15,000.
This begs the question: can we really afford not to invest in safer work control, given the huge costs when things go wrong? Yokogawa RAP’s Digital Control of Work software is an excellent example of a smarter way to manage safe work in plants of any size and in any industry.
Security systems fall under the category of Operational Risk Management (ORM), and are a way of trying to ensure that work is done safely and efficiently, with minimal risk to employees or contract workers. These systems break down into digital solutions and hardware solutions, and the two should work together in harmony.
The era of the ‘Networked Worker’
The term ‘connected worker’ is sometimes used to define this process. However, in many ways, the term ‘networked worker’ or ‘integrated worker’ is probably better. This is because information needs to flow in both directions, giving the worker access to information on the site and at the same time allowing the site to obtain information from the workers themselves, in terms of their own situation and its effect on working conditions. plant.
Digital solutions include:
- Work software control (for risk assessments, permissions, and isolation management, including key items like critical equipment and barriers)
- Worker software (shift check-ins, shift handovers, worker rounds)
- Mobile and mapping capabilities (for easy viewing of work)
- Audit, incident and change management software
- Environmental monitoring systems
Portable solutions include:
- Worker location tracking
- Conditional analysis (noise, gas readings, etc.)
- Worker health monitoring (can be passive or active)
- Communication systems (headsets, radios, wireless and mobile devices)
All of this could lead one to think that workers need to visit the gym more often to find out if they are going to be wearing all this equipment, in addition to the normal and required PPE. The truth, however, is that modern technology is much better shaped and fit than it was five or ten years ago, making connections to and from workers easier and more affordable, and all without burying the worker in a mass of Equipements.
Big gains can be made in every organization by focusing on security first.
- Less paperwork management
- Risks become easier to see and understand
- Real-time activity can be confirmed without having to walk back to an office
- Health can be monitored in real time
All of the above leads not only to a plant where there is less risk of a safety or environmental incident, but also to a more efficient workplace. By integrating workers into the plant in a more meaningful way, they become part of the system itself, rather than sitting outside of it. The digitally integrated worker is the next step beyond Industry 4.0, where traditional manufacturing processes are automated. To quote the European Commission, “the next step (Industry 5.0) is to place the welfare of the worker at the center of the production process and use new technologies to provide prosperity beyond employment and growth while respecting the production limits of the planet” .
Safe work with a workforce technologically interconnected with the plant
What is a digitally integrated worker? It seems like a simple question, but the answers are myriad, depending on the work required. It also begs the question of whether or not ‘worker’ is a term that applies exclusively to humans, because in many high-risk applications, robots have become the workforce of choice.
At first glance, robotics de-risks safety issues, and in terms of protecting humans, it does so admirably. But what about the safety of the robots themselves? Interestingly, not only do risk assessments still apply, but they will be different for robot work and human work.
The best example is stairs, where mitigating the risk of falling for a human can be to place and use a handrail, while for a robot the solution will be a guided ramp. But what if the area is wet and slippery? In such cases, the handrail will still help, but the ramp becomes a significantly more dangerous problem to mitigate.
There is a balance between robotics and people, where the two must be integrated back into each other for the maximum benefit of the safety of the workers themselves, whatever form they take, and of the plant in which they are working.
A focus on safety and an overall safety-first culture will lead to not only a safer workforce, but also one that is more efficient and productive and where there is significantly less risk of incidents and the costs and time lost. associated with them.
Through the use of digital tools and portable technologies available on the market, it is possible to truly integrate workers into a plant environment, allowing them to perform their jobs safely with greater ease and knowing that they are safer when working. get your job done.
Yokogawa is committed to improving safety and security with its range of solutions, from digital work control and risk assessment to robotics and digital twin technologies. They have the power to help you on your journey to a smarter, safer workforce.
This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Yokogawa. For more information visit https://www.yokogawa.com/au/.