Editor's Choice

Enhancing worker safety with mobile solutions

May 2022 Editor's Choice

Modern production facilities constantly exchange data. This flood of data is usually managed by central controls. However, for comprehensive and timely monitoring of processes, data must be available closer to the process and more directly – preferably in real time and with low latency.

Modern, intrinsically safe smartphones and tablets can serve as decentralised mini data centres or digital gateways, for example, in combination with professional software, sensors, beacons or other smart peripheral devices. The accumulated data can be transferred to the mobile device in real time and evaluated there with the appropriate applications, at any location and any time. In this way, companies improve their productivity and bolster employee safety – especially in hazardous areas.

Providing the right safety level

In industries with extensive factory premises or potentially explosive areas, employees frequently work alone, outside the range of hearing and vision of their colleagues. They are exposed to higher risks in their daily work and depend on prompt assistance in case of an emergency. If appropriate safety precautions are not taken, injuries, accidents and consequential damage to people and equipment can easily occur.

The company must ensure that the accident is detected and the rescue chain is set in motion swiftly, especially when the injured person is unable to act or when nobody has noticed the accident. In case of critical hazards, it is therefore essential to set up a certified lone-worker protection (LWP) solution. Equipped with sophisticated lone-worker protection software, enterprise mobility solutions reliably protect their users: programmable 3D motion sensors automatically trigger an alarm in the event of a hazard, report the exact location of the incident and document the entire process for later investigation.

A comprehensive lone-worker protection system consists of personal alarm signal terminals (PAST, e.g. mobile phones and other wireless devices), a personal alarm signal system (PASS – software that resides on a server) and connection between the PASS and PAST, for example via a telephone or wireless network.

For larger-scale lone-worker protection solutions it is essential that mobile devices can easily be integrated into cloud server systems. The Pepperl+Fuchs brand, ecom, offers such solutions. The specialist solution for industrial communication and explosion protection combines state-of-the-art lone-worker protection applications with personal emergency response devices.

Practical example: Protecting the mobile worker

The case study of a power plant operator in northern Italy demonstrates the benefits of a lone-worker protection solution consisting of mobile devices and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons developed specifically for hazardous areas.

The management team was looking for an automated system that would help prevent accidents reliably and reduce the time for a potential rescue to an absolute minimum. The company chose a solution with ecom’s smartphone series Smart-Ex and beacon series Loc-Ex, both certified for use in Zone 1/21 and Division 1.

With BLE beacons, employees can also be located indoors or be warned of possible hazards in advance. They have an interior range of approximately 10 to 30 m and up to 300 m out in the open. The signal from the beacon is received by a special application on the Smart-Ex smartphone and the distance to the beacon is calculated.

When the mobile worker enters their working area, their location can be pinpointed accurately – even three-dimensionally, i.e., multiple storeys – and forwarded to the control centre´s central navigation system. The user is not dependent on an Internet connection because the mobile devices and applications store the beacon signals locally on the device and send them immediately to update the backend system as soon as access to the company network is available.

Compared to other geo-location technologies, the beacon technology offers a high degree of precision and accuracy on all three axes. The position of the mobile worker is stored in the temporary memory of the device and is only forwarded to the rescuer in the event of an alarm. It cannot be retrieved either from the device itself or from the outside, from the alarm console in the control centre or by subsequent technical analysis. The solution thus meets all data protection requirements, guarantees the safety of lone workers and, in an emergency, reduces response times of rescuers to a minimum.

Digitalising processes increases safety effectiveness

Industrial enterprises are under constant pressure to increase operational efficiency and productivity of employees, without sacrificing safety. ecom´s mobile communication solutions, as components of a personal emergency response system, also meet the highest business requirements: many tasks can be carried out by oneself, since another person is no longer necessary for safety reasons.

Besides the obvious advantage of having a constant means of communication with workers in the field, this solution also enables them to exchange information and data at any time while moving around a plant or work site. Users also benefit from all the components of mobile solutions, including cameras, barcode scanners and major integrated software solutions.


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