New technologies, lean operations, and increasing customer demands are driving companies to explore the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in pursuit of greater safety and efficiency. In its simplest form, IIoT networks and applications leverage previously inaccessible data from machines, sensors, and devices that are in the field in industrial environments (often referred to as “edge computing”). An IIoT-enabled device transmits selected data points to cloud servers, allowing stakeholders to monitor their fleet of connected devices from anywhere. You can then use the insights from this data to improve operational efficiencies, reduce downtime, enhance worker safety, and more.
IIoT deployments contain three primary components:
- Hardware: A product or device that collects data points and sends that information to the cloud, such as the Ventis® Pro 5 or Radius BZ1 Area Monitor.
- Connectivity: Data from connected devices is generally transferred from hardware to the cloud using wi-fi, cellular, satellite, Ethernet, or mesh network connectivity. Newer IIoT systems can transfer data from wirelessly-connected hardware directly to the cloud. For some IIoT systems, a gateway serves as an intermediate step between hardware and the cloud.
- Software: A software platform, such as iNet® Now or SAFER One, that displays the live data collected from the hardware and leverages that data to simplify pains and automate workflows.
IIoT technologies have been developed for many different markets and applications—including gas detection. In a connected IIoT gas detection program, employees wear gas detectors that send real-time data to cloud-based software, where safety monitoring personnel can instantly access a comprehensive view of what’s happening across their facility and in the field. With instant visibility into the hazards that threaten workers, device usage stats, sitewide productivity trends, and more, monitoring personnel can make decisions based on insights, not instincts.
Managing Your IIoT Solutions
In today’s data-driven economy, IIoT or “Connected Worker” solutions are becoming standard safety practices. Company and site leadership know that the safest workplace is the most efficient workplace and demand that their workers have layers of protection as they head out to work each day. To meet these demands, safety managers are electing to deploy Connected Worker solutions that utilize real-time alerts and analytics to help improve safety, reduce risk, and boost productivity.
Despite the trend toward connectivity and visibility, many leaders struggle with change management and reinforcing the benefits of Connected Worker solutions to workers. To drive change in these areas, you need to take a hands-on approach.
Whether you’re just implementing a connected worker solution for the first time or are an early-adopter of several years, you can maximize its success with a few simple steps.
Start Shifting Mindsets
Although technology is giving us the tools to make jobsites safer, workers are still sustaining significant injuries while on the clock. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,333 people died from a work-related injury in 2019. That’s one death every 99 minutes.
Your company should do everything in its power to ensure that all workers return home unharmed at the end of the day. A connected worker solution that identifies workplace hazards is a major step in maximizing the safety of workers.
However, simply having a connected safety solution isn’t going to add value if your workers aren’t properly trained on how to use the equipment and if your monitoring personnel are too strapped for time to make good use of the data. To extract value from connected solutions, you need to be honest about the change in mindset, priorities, and potential additional resources. The investment in shifting attitudes to adopt new ways of working will result in long-term safety improvements that save lives, reduce the costs of on-the-job incidents, and protect your company’s reputation.
Visibility only matters if you act on it. If there’s a man-down alarm and nobody responds (or there’s a delayed response) then the alarm didn’t make your workplace any safer. Instead, you must take a proactive approach to managing safety.
Make sure your organization is taking connected safety seriously by regularly training all workers. Proper training can minimize three common failures:
Misunderstanding alerts: Connected devices like personal gas detectors come equipped with local alarms that make noise, vibrate, and flash to warn workers about different hazards—both for themselves and for their peers. If your workers don’t know the difference between an alarm on their own monitor vs. an alarm indicating that a peer needs help, then they’re missing key benefits of a connected worker program.
Disregarding alerts: It’s not unusual for operators to believe they know more than their gas monitors. Someone who’s been working at your plant for years might ignore an alarm, thinking they’ll know when it’s really time to evacuate. This mentality causes more frequent incidents.
Failing to act on alerts: Being proactive is critical to a connected worker program. Safety teams should always address alerts, analyze data to recognize patterns, and intervene when they identify unsafe behaviors.
Companies with a genuine investment in training are much more likely to reduce injuries on the clock. However, no matter how good your training was, memories fade over time and bad habits can return. Ideally, all workers should receive initial training for their connected worker solutions followed by annual refresher courses.
Close Gaps with Data
Busy leadership teams don’t have time to sift through mountains of data from your connected worker program, so it’s up to you to shape the data into a story about your safety program.
Luckily, many connected worker programs can provide data to support the six key steps that you can take to initiate long-term operational changes:
- Assess the level of control of your current safety processes: What types of issues or losses are you experiencing?
- Identify where the problems arise.
- Diagnose systemic or cultural issues across people, behavior, environment, and leadership.
- Determine possible solutions and consider the consequences of the outcomes.
- Promote solutions to your shareholders and gain endorsement.
- Measure and monitor for success, and don’t be afraid to revise your plans.
Lead by Example
If you work in safety, you influence your organization’s safety climate and can impact worker injury rates. To make the most of this power to influence, you need to set and share a vision for what you want to achieve with your connected worker program. This includes articulating safety goals for all levels of your company. After you’ve set a vision, commit to it. Display visible and sincere dedication to your workers and their safety. Listen to their concerns, ensure that any safety or privacy concerns are heard and addressed, and include employees in the planning processes. Transparency goes a long way when trying to implement new systems.
Going Beyond Connectivity
Getting data from a piece of hardware to the cloud is the foundation of IIoT, but the true return on investment is in the proactive changes you drive across your operations. With connected worker programs, you can make strategic decisions that improve operational efficiencies, reduce downtime, and enhance worker safety.
For gas detection, having a holistic view of an entire facility—including patterns in gas exposures—helps with prioritizing facility maintenance and reducing risk. Perhaps more importantly, having the ability to monitor workers in real time and receive instant notifications in the event of an emergency could mean the difference between life and death.