5 Key Ways Connected Worker Technology Improves Plant Safety
Connected worker technology gives all workers real-time access to the information and actionable insights they need to avoid hazards and make safer decisions.
Plant managers are responsible for ensuring that their workplaces are safe and their employees are protected. Prioritizing safety leads to fewer workplace injuries, better personnel and equipment productivity, and compliance with industry and regulatory standards.
Although the benefits are multiple, so are the challenges plant managers encounter when implementing and enforcing safety measures. These include:
- Tracking hazards
- Monitoring worker compliance with safety regulations
- Conducting risk assessments
- Reporting incidents
- Effective team communication
Connected worker technology can help overcome these challenges while also moving plants closer to their automation and digitalization targets. Connected worker platforms also automate operations, simplify communication, and boost efficiency.
This technology is pivotal as plants embrace Industry 4.0 and strive to overcome modern manufacturing challenges. But how exactly does it improve plant safety?
1. Improved Hazard Identification
Connected worker technology relies on sensors installed on equipment and in critical locations within a facility. These sensors:
- Collect real-time, equipment-specific performance data and make this up-to-date information available through a centralized data management platform
- Track variables like temperature, pressure, humidity, and emissions within the facility
- Generate alerts when operating conditions exceed predetermined levels
By monitoring equipment usage patterns, these sensors alert operators and technicians of imminent equipment failure. Identifying such hazards in advance allows maintenance managers to implement appropriate corrective measures, averting machine failures that can damage machinery, harm workers, or pollute the environment.
Plants can also equip workers with wearable devices and sensor-enabled personal protective equipment (PPE) that monitor their heart rate and blood pressure to identify signs of fatigue. Data gathered from these wearables allow plant managers to develop work schedules that maximize productivity without compromising worker safety.
Fitting protective equipment with industrial safety sensors also provides a simple way for managers and supervisors to monitor worker compliance. Supervisors can identify whether field workers are using appropriate PPE and track their live locations, ensuring optimum personnel visibility.
Maintenance managers can also use connected worker platforms to evaluate the quality of performed work. This allows them to identify work errors that intensify hazards, as well as compare error rates per worker and advise them to rectify mistakes that may compromise their safety.
2. Enhanced Risk Assessment
Connected worker technology simplifies hazard tracking and the monitoring work of activities. Machine sensors generate alerts whenever they detect anomalies or minute defects affecting equipment performance. They also collect information from multiple locations, providing decision-makers with adequate information for assessing risk levels.
Plant managers can also pull production and maintenance records, and utilize historical data to spot trends and usage patterns that cause performance issues or failures. Using this information, they can develop appropriate measures to mitigate safety risks through:
- Proper equipment utilization
- Timely and accurate plant equipment maintenance
- Identification and elimination of root causes of asset failures
Over time, plant managers can pinpoint activities or work practices likely to cause accidents or injuries and evaluate the impacts of different plant layouts on safety, which will allow them to develop advanced hazard control methods.
(Learn more in How to Create a Maintenance Program for Manufacturing Facilities)
3. Improved Communication
Safety incidents can occur due to poor communication across different teams in a plant. For instance, machine operators might identify a safety hazard on the plant floor but delay communicating this to the other teams. Connected worker platforms solves this problem by facilitating timely and accurate communication.
Workers can use these platforms to report hazards on their phones, with the option to record video or draft a short message to explain the nature of the hazard. When a hazard is logged, workers across the facility receive an alert in real time. This allows managers to initiate risk mitigation measures and ensures that everyone is aware of the risk and can take steps to remain safe.
This enhanced communication allows for better collaboration among workers in different departments, resulting in a variety of safety improvements:
- Operators can generate work requests with unique identifiers, eliminating delays and paperwork that can postpone corrective measures
- Maintenance managers receive and approve these work requests in real time and allocate work to available technicians, preventing the propagation of safety risks
- Workers can be given access to several streams of technical information to assist them in operating and repairing plant assets
- An instructor can remotely guide plant workers to run complex systems, ensuring that they follow correct work procedures
Connected worker technology can also simplify communicating work policies and safety regulations. Plant managers can deliver safety training using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to showcase how to correctly use advanced protective equipment, ways to report hazards on digital platforms, and how to analyze risk assessment reports, ensuring that everyone is up to date in matters of workplace safety.
4. Instant Availability of Data
Automated data collection provides safety supervisors and plant workers with real-time insights, ensuring they adopt work practices that mitigate risks and prevent safety incidents. These insights also make it easier to classify and assign severity to workplace hazards, which allows all staff to make informed decisions.
The centralized dashboards on connected worker platforms make it possible to compare up-to-date data from different sources. Moreover, it can present technical information in a clear, simplified manner. This makes it easier for workers without a technical background to interpret it and understand how issues like delayed equipment maintenance or improper PPE usage have a negative impact on plant safety.
Giving plant managers access to this data allows them to track process and equipment changes and deduce their actual effects on safety. This keeps them from overlooking minor changes or issues that may appear inconsequential but yield serious safety consequences in the long run.
5. Increased Efficiency
Connected worker technology fosters data-driven operations and allows managers to automate routine activities like equipment inspections. It makes it easier to check the working conditions of assets in hard-to-access or hazardous locations of a facility. These assessments are gathered through sensors, eliminating the need for workers to perform these checks in person, thereby reducing their exposure to various hazards.
Wearables and sensors can also surface patterns in foot traffic throughout the plant. This information can then be used to identify and reduce unnecessary workflows. This not only improves efficiency, but eliminates some of the movements that increase exposure to hazards and have the potential to cause injury.
Providing workers with access to technical information like repair manuals from their handheld devices and remote assistance whenever required also increases efficiency and reduces fatigue (itself a hazard and a driving force behind many workplace incidents). Workers can then focus their energy on productive work and remaining alert and attentive, enabling them to better notice risks and work safely.
Connected worker technology is instrumental in optimizing plant safety and implementing it can reduce work-related accidents and injuries.
Before settling on a specific platform, you should audit your processes and equipment to understand the type of data you need to collect and its relevance to improving your plant's safety. Additionally, you should identify technological and infrastructural modifications required to implement and sustain connected worker technology. Finally, develop a long-term implementation plan and monitor its effectiveness to evaluate whether it enhances plant safety.