These are exciting times for gas detection devices. What were once considered “electronic canaries” are now becoming bona fide connected industrial safety devices. We have made the transition from beep and flash to new connected safety solutions.
Before we rush to implement connected devices in our workplaces, we need to take a step back to understand what limitations and challenges a “connected workplace” will pose. Just because a safety device promises connectivity, doesn’t mean the challenge of signal availability disappears. These devices will face the same connectivity challenges as our consumer devices.
If you‘re researching connected worker solutions or are currently in the market for one, here are some helpful guidelines:
Properly define “connected worker.” Before you invest, clearly define the goals, expectations, and potential for the program. Nothing is worse than a false sense of security in a safety environment. Much like gas detectors aren’t protective equipment, a connected device doesn’t necessarily protect a worker from hazards. These devices can only relay information about hazards, not eliminate them. Your organization is buying awareness, not security. However, if you collect aggregate awareness data from devices, you can make intelligent decisions that can help reduce the risk of death on the job.
Take a multi-dimensional approach. As someone who is on the phone constantly for my job, nothing is more frustrating than when I am on a call in a remote area, but I can only hear every other word. Even more frustrating is when I lose a call because I hit a dead spot in a busy area or that one spot in my house (I know you have that spot in your house as well). Even though it’s frustrating, dropping a call isn’t really a big deal—I can just call them back when I have better reception. This value proposition is fine for my phone. However, if I am depending on this connection to relay critical alerts about my life (as is the case with your gas detector), large gaps in coverage are unacceptable. If you add the complexity of an industrial plant or remote area, then your communication gaps get wider. In other words, as the saying goes, “Don’t bring just a cell phone to a connected worker fight.”
By no means am I downplaying the importance of a cellular gateway. But with so many different applications, you should explore all methods for communication (wi-fi, cellular, satellite, peer-to-peer ad-hoc networks) to deliver the best-connected solution.
Whether you are looking to connect one lone worker in a remote part of the country, many in a rural area, or an entire industrial plant, it is wise to speak to an expert. Application engineers can properly scope the appropriate gateway(s) and price the solution for you up front.
Buy “Swiss Army” gas detectors. Simply put, don’t invest in devices that only communicate through one type of gateway. We are just scratching the surface of connected devices, and the ability to use multiple gateways will present various options and value. The connected workplace is multi-dimensional, so you need a device that contains multiple radios (wi-fi, cellular, Bluetooth, near-field communication, peer-to-peer) so your devices can communicate in any application.
Be cautious about investing in devices that rely on outdated cellular technology with no ability to update in the future. Anyone who bought a TV without an HDMI cable input or a computer with an odd connection port that isn’t widely compatible knows the hassle and expense of having to buy a new device.
And for those workers or applications that don’t require a connected element, a device that has on/off connected capabilities is perfect. You can use one gas detection device across your entire fleet without retraining or using different devices and systems.
Gas detection first. Keep in mind that these wonderful advancements are all based on gas detection. Regardless of how connected the device is, if it can’t reliably detect a hazardous concentration of gas, then it can’t help you. If we want to realize the full potential of a connected worker program, we must also take on the responsibility of maintaining our devices. Without a doubt, a properly-maintained gas detector will give workers the best chance of avoiding hazardous gas concentrations.
Kyle Krueger is a district manager at Industrial Scientific Corporation.
Learn more about connected safety solutions from Industrial Scientific.