Better connected – it can save an oil lot of trouble

Cutting-edge safety management and monitoring software can enable businesses in oil and gas to streamline safety processes, reduce safety compliance and maintenance costs.

Petrochemical companies that invest in the latest connected technology not only ensure regulatory compliance and the regular maintenance of safety equipment that is key to protecting workers, they also gain a far-reaching business benefit: a competitive advantage.

Failing to comply with safety standards and regulations can not only put workers at risk, but can also be extremely costly. In the financial year 2014/15, injuries and work-related illnesses cost UK employers £2.8 billion. The Buncefield oil storage facility’s incident alone is estimated to have cost a total of £1 billion.

Yet, ensuring compliance with health and safety legislation can translate into a significant administrative burden for oil and gas employers. Compliance with worker safety legislation cost the European chemical and petrochemical industries an estimated €2 billion per year, which account for 24% of the sector’s total investment in regulatory compliance.

With these figures in mind, it is not difficult to understand why making safety management processes easier and more efficient, while enabling businesses to gain better visibility of their workforce and safety equipment, is crucial. The latest safety management software is now responding to these fundamental challenges.

Take portable gas detectors. Typically, companies in the downstream oil and gas sector rely on large fleets of portable gas detectors to protect workers from potential exposure to toxic gases. All of these devices need to be maintained on a regular basis to ensure that workers can rely on them. Keeping records of all these operations manually can be very time consuming and costly. And because companies often use a range of portable gas monitors for measuring toxic and flammable gases under varying conditions, safety managers can benefit from using a common interface, or visual display, that shows information from different types and brands of gas monitoring instrumentation, and is both simple to understand and easy to use.

Historically, the only option for companies wanting to streamline maintenance operations has been to use a different standalone software for each product, which poses a real challenge when it comes to collecting and interpreting the data that has to be aggregated from different sources. Software platforms have now been developed to address this challenge and offer maintenance engineers and safety managers one, overarching, open platform solution that is able to connect with different devices, so that all safety systems can be managed through one simple tool.

Offering a highly intuitive and user-friendly interface, the latest software platforms simplify device configuration, testing and maintenance, streamlining compliance administration for safety managers by generating testing, certification, incident and other key reports at a glance. They also make the work of maintenance engineers easier by providing them with intuitive device configuration using logical data groups, consistent configuration across all devices and quick instrument configuration supported by device templates. An automated notification alerts the safety manager if a product certification is expiring. These platforms also offer a comprehensive view of device health by consolidating calibration, bump and event data.

Perhaps more importantly, the latest safety software solutions enable safety managers to access, in real time and from remote locations, the data that is collected by the portable devices worn by the workers. For example, Bluetooth connectivity now enables the worker to automatically connect their portable gas detector or other device to their smartphone. Wireless connectivity then enables the safety manager to immediately view, on their laptop or smartphone, which worker is using the device. In this way, remote stakeholders can monitor each individual worker’s safety closely.

It is also possible to access critical data such as toxic gas readings or radiation levels, man-down alerts and locations that are automatically transmitted, wirelessly, by the portable device so the company can provide immediate help if needed. In addition to Bluetooth, these devices also support Wi-Fi, Mesh, and GPS wireless communication protocols.

The latest software platforms support connected worker offerings such as two-way communications, geo-location and automatic safety alerts to provide employers with real time awareness of safety incidents. This vital information enables the safety manager to respond quickly if an employee is injured in a remote location, or even to prevent an incident.

For example, 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.

By enabling portable gas detectors and other devices to automatically communicate data directly to the control room, in real time, safety compliance and monitoring can enhance productivity in several ways. Firstly, it makes it unnecessary for workers to stop every few minutes to send the information back manually, thus reducing downtime. Secondly, it gives workers the confidence that the equipment they’re using is fit for purpose and that their exposure levels are being monitored closely. Thirdly, software technology gives workers the ability to focus more on the job in hand, thus improving overall productivity.

Honeywell estimates that this capability can significantly increase overall productivity. Studies on the benefits of connected workers estimate an increase in output of roughly eight or nine percent, with a reduction in costs of approximately seven to eight percent. In industrial operations, it is estimated that companies could see as much as a 300-basis-point boost to their bottom line. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Safety Council (NSC) have estimated that every dollar invested in safety yields $5 in benefits – a 500% return.

Connected worker technologies allow businesses to make workplaces safer and operations more efficient while helping companies in oil and gas reduce costly downtime and administrative burden.

With the prominence of connectivity in industrial settings set to grow in years to come, connected technology, underpinned by safety management and monitoring software, will certainly have a crucial role to play in this fundamental shift to a safer and more productive work environment.

Business executives can now make smarter investment and financial decisions to enhance their profitability and competitive advantage with connected worker technologies.

Prabhu Soundarrajan is Global director, connected worker at Honeywell Industrial Safety