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Connected operations present opportunities for companies to create inherently safer operations

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Industrial Safety Safety in the connected enterprise

Jun 26, 2017

Harnessing the power of safety and operational data can substantially improve safety compliance and performance. The Connected Enterprise enables this, empowering safety professionals with a real-time understanding of worker behaviour, machinery compliance, causes of safety shutdowns or stoppages, and safety anomalies and trends.

Workplace safety is a multifaceted issue for many manufacturers and industrial operators. It includes both machine and process safety, and is vital for protecting workers, avoiding production interruptions and achieving operational excellence. But it also comes with a number of challenges, including:

Worker behaviours: A safety-system design should consider every human-task interaction within the machinery or equipment. Operators may bypass poorly designed safety systems that don’t take these interactions into account.

An evolving workforce: A major workforce shift is underway worldwide, and the safety implications are significant. Older workers, who are nearing retirement but still on the job, are at higher risk for certain injuries and can take longer to recover. And the younger, less experienced workers taking their place are more prone to injury and tend to have more serious injuries.

Machinery stoppages: Stoppages can happen for any number of reasons: jams, misfeeds, adjustments, changeovers, maintenance, etc. However, companies often have minimal visibility into why or when these stoppages occur. This prevents them from understanding if stoppages can be attributed to specific workers, machinery, lines or shifts.

Regulatory compliance: Compliance with complex global safety standards is increasingly essential but also challenging. At the same time, these standards allow for the use of more advanced safety technologies that enable companies to address safety and productivity in new ways.

Data management: Many safety professionals continue to rely on outdated data collection and reporting methods. Most often, safety data is manually entered for inspections, compliance logs, incident reports, training and other processes. And the systems in which this data is stored are not connected to plant-floor systems.

Rise of The Connected Enterprise

The Connected Enterprise begins with the convergence of enterprise-level information technology (IT) and plant-level operations technology (OT) systems. Merging these historically separate systems into a single, secure network architecture provides a seamless foundation for real-time connectivity and information sharing. With this foundation in place, companies can harness the power of enabling technologies, including:

Industrial Internet of Things: IIoT technologies include any device connected via the Internet Protocol. They enable companies to access production, quality, safety and other data that, until now, has been trapped in machines, manufacturing processes and supply chains.

Big Data and Data analytics: It helps manage massive amounts of data and contextualise it into actionable information that is relevant to each worker. This can help improve performance management on the plant floor, such as with predictive analytics, and supports better decision making and frictionless productivity companywide.

Wireless and mobility: Such technologies can access, capture and communicate data in new ways. For example, mobile video communications can put an expert based in Chicago on a plant floor in China at a moment’s notice.

Put safety data to use

The ability to access safety system data and convert it into meaningful information has enormous potential to transform how safety professionals monitor and manage safety. A key opportunity is incorporating safety information into EHS management systems to identify discrepancies between how policies and procedures are defined and how they’re actually followed in day-to-day operations.

Safety professionals can then use their existing alarm-and-events and metrics software to analyse the data and identify if e-stops are being used at an abnormally high rate. From there, they can investigate the issue’s root cause, such as insufficient standard operating procedures or improper machine design.

Enhance safety

Connecting people, equipment and worksites creates new opportunities to enhance worker and environmental safety, including remote access, operations visibility, worker locating and information delivery.

Reduce safety-related downtime

Better visibility into safety-system performance and stoppages can help determine root cause of shutdowns. Safety and production data also can be combined to understand the frequency, duration, time and location of safety-related shutdowns. Armed with this information, safety and operations professionals can work together to develop mitigation plans to improve productivity. This could be as simple as having discussions with operators on a single production line or shift where downtime issues are most frequent.

Ease of compliance

The safety data required for compliance and reporting purposes is largely collected through manual audits today. This can be a time-consuming process that requires valuable work hours, results in production downtime and can be subject to human error. By integrating auditing functions into the HMI and controller, organisations can automate the auditing process.

Transform operations with safety in mind

Connected operations present opportunities for companies to create inherently safer operations. For example, manned topside platforms used in off-shore oil and gas production can be vulnerable to potentially catastrophic events, from explosions to ship collisions. They also often require helicopter transportation for supplies and staff, which can be dangerous.


While all of these benefits are more easily realised in a fully Connected Enterprise, they also can be achieved in an iterative process. Regardless of the approach a company takes, some key steps are crucial for making the most of safety in connected, information-enabled operations.

1. Active EHS representation

Connected operations span across people, processes and technology. As a result, bringing people together from across an organisation is critical when deploying a Connected Enterprise or simply expanding connectivity in a smaller manner. A cross functional team should be formed to include not only operations and IT stakeholders, but also environmental health and safety (EHS) professionals. Only by having a seat at the table can EHS professionals define their goals as part of a larger, company wide connected strategy.

2. Assess the current state

A company’s roadmap to improving safety in a connected operation begins with understanding where it’s at today. Key questions to ask during an assessment include: Are we using contemporary, integrated safety systems? What safety data is already available? How is it reported? Could safety data be collected using an existing data-collection platform, etc?

3. Determine meaningful data and information

This is where safety, operations and other team members specify the safety-system data they need to support their goals. Important considerations at this stage include identifying what data must be captured, where and how it will be collected, who will receive the information, what actions will result from the information, etc.

4. Implement or upgrade safety systems

Safety-system data is already available in an integrated safety controller. Implementing changes merely involves specifying the right data coming out of the controller by creating new tags for each access point. This data can then be contextualised within a plant’s existing EMI software and delivered to safety and operations personnel in the form of relevant, actionable information via EMI dashboards. Safety data also can be incorporated into other existing software, such as FactoryTalk Alarms and Events.

5. Analyse and optimise

Getting information to workers is important, but so is getting workers to act on the information. That’s why incorporating safety-system information into daily operations is critical. For example, analytics should be included in daily production meetings, and standard procedures should be developed for collecting, analysing and interpreting data. With these elements in place, safety professionals can monitor and refine all aspects of safety in a Connected Enterprise as part of a continuous improvement programme.


The ability to access, analyse and act on safety-system data in a Connected Enterprise represents a turning point for safety compliance and productivity. It creates opportunities to better understand risks and safety-system usage, enhance worker and environmental safety, reduce safety-related downtime, and even re-imagine operations as innately safer.

The article is reproduced with courtesy to Rockwell Automation

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  • The safety data required for compliance and reporting purposes is largely collected through manual audits today

    The safety data required for compliance and reporting purposes is largely collected through manual audits today

    Image: Rockwell Automation

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