Out of gas
25 July 2018
Gas detectors are the first line of defence for protecting the facilities and the people inside them from exposure to hazardous gases. Prabhu Soundarrajan explores how introducing a greater level of connectivity into gas detection can help optimise safety.
RECENT YEARS have seen the use of wireless connectivity increase in a wide variety of applications including health and safety. Connected health and safety devices can protect the workforce better and provide many of the benefits associated with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, which include more automation, increased productivity, improved reporting accuracy and reduced cost.
With small-to-medium sized businesses already spending around £40,000 a year on average on health and safety compliance¹, and facing increasing pressure to improve efficiency while reducing operating costs, the prospect of using connected technology to optimise the management of essential safety processes, such as gas monitoring, is a tempting one.
Gas detection has traditionally been managed through either portable or fixed devices with limited or no connectivity. Portable gas detectors are frequently part of a maintenance engineer’s personal protective equipment (PPE) and designed primarily for the wearer’s protection, whereas fixed detectors are permanently located in the facility or structure they protect, monitoring gas in a specific area where there is a risk of gas leaks.
However, despite their proven performance, there are a number of well-documented challenges with both types of detectors. For fixed detectors, the main issue is often the location. They are often mounted in very high or hard-to-reach areas in the facility, depending on the configuration of machinery or density of the gas they are used to detect, which can make interrogation and maintenance difficult, time-consuming and even dangerous in some cases. To read the display, maintenance engineers may need to set up access equipment such as hydraulic lifts, ladders and platforms and it can take several trips back and forth between the detector and the controller to complete the task.
With portable gas detectors, the main challenge is that while the device keeps the wearer informed of local gas threats, the facilities or safety manager cannot monitor the worker’s safety remotely. In the case of an accident where the worker is incapacitated and unable to raise the alarm, this lack of visibility can lead to a delay in the emergency response, potentially putting the worker’s life at risk.
In response to these challenges, the latest gas detection products now feature Bluetooth connectivity to provide a safer and a more user-friendly experience, and to enable a range of activities to be carried out remotely. Bluetooth-enabled fixed gas detectors can be set up and interrogated remotely using a smartphone app and an intrinsically safe smartphone, specifically developed for use in hazardous environments.
For situations requiring portable gas detectors, connected devices are easier to use, reduce administration time and optimise safety. They offer facilities and safety managers better situational awareness of the worker and the facility. They also track the worker regardless of their location and collect valuable data about the environment, alarm history, equipment safety and even the worker’s training. This enhanced visibility enables a faster response in case of an emergency and better-informed rescue operations.
Connectivity is also available for organisations with an existing infrastructure of fully functioning devices. Retrofit options can bring the main elements of connectivity to legacy detectors. For example, to make existing Honeywell portable detectors connected, Honeywell’s BW Connect device can be slid onto the charging port of the detector, enabling it to be paired with a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. Similarly, add-on wired accessories known as smart junction boxes or Bluetooth-enabled local displays can be connected to fixed detectors, to enable workers to perform various maintenance tasks away from the detector’s inaccessible or hazardous location, without the need to replace the whole device.
Introducing cloud-based or real-time wireless connectivity to fixed gas detectors helps maintenance engineers complete a range of tasks remotely or from the safety of ground-level. By using a smartphone app to connect to the detector the worker can access vital information in real time, including the gas readings, diagnostic information, service history and the date of the last calibration. This is especially useful when working with detectors that are mounted high up, for example near the ceiling of a manufacturing facility. Without a remote connection, performing routine maintenance tasks such as calibration or interrogating the device for information would require working at height, putting operators at greater risk of injury². By being able to carry out the job from the ground floor, engineers can instantly reduce the risk associated with this essential, yet potentially dangerous, task.
The latest Bluetooth-enabled solutions can also tackle the problem of excessive administration time. Many of Honeywell’s customers report that maintenance teams frequently spend up to half a day per week preparing calibration reports by hand. A smartphone app can speed up the process by enabling the maintenance engineers to complete these tasks whilst out in the field. The process requires little time or effort from the worker. The latest apps capture the information during the calibration process and automatically store it in the mobile handset, from where a simple report can be produced showing the calibration parameters. The engineer can then add a signature, close the job and send a PDF report to the facilities manager directly from a phone. This saves time, improves efficiency and productivity, and gets the report to the manager without delay.
The ability to close jobs and generate reports while out in the field can improve operational efficiency and potentially reduce the risk of errors in reporting. It can also streamline maintenance and administration tasks associated with servicing each gas detector, enabling engineers to cover more jobs during a shift. This is also evident in portable gas detection: the connected devices monitor and feed back to the facilities manager in charge, leaving the engineers free to carry on with their tasks without having to stop at regular intervals to report back.
How facilities benefit
It is easy to see how connectivity can help facilities managers optimise their resources when it comes to maintaining and interrogating fixed gas detectors and keeping their teams safe when performing tasks in high risk areas, such as confined spaces like manholes and boiler rooms. Similar needs are evident across other industries.
For example, Honeywell recently helped a U.S. baseball stadium comprehensively upgrade its fixed gas detection system to improve worker and customer safety. The gas detectors were previously mounted high on stadium walls in hard-to-reach areas accessible only by hydraulic lifts or extension ladders. As a result, the maintenance engineers servicing the detectors had to climb over the high structure in order to access the detectors, which presented a number of health and safety risks.
Having reviewed the situation, we suggested replacing the existing detectors with its connected Sensepoint XCL detectors. These Bluetooth-enabled devices allow a single worker to carry out a range of tasks, including set-up and maintenance, wirelessly from up to 10 metres away. The maintenance team at the stadium saw the benefits of the connected solution instantly as they were able to interrogate the gas detectors from the ground floor, speeding up maintenance and improving safety.
Another good example is in warehousing. Protecting the warehouse and its contents, especially at storage facilities dealing with toxic or explosive substances, is paramount to successful operation, yet commissioning and interrogating the fixed detectors can be a challenge for the facilities management team and require various precautionary measures to be taken, especially if workers need to climb over or move the storage containers. Being able to do this remotely, via a smartphone app, significantly improves safety and speeds up the process, enabling the engineers to spend more time performing their core duties and so increasing productivity.
Over the coming years, connected gas detection technology is set to become increasingly widespread as new industries want and need to access the benefits and flexibility going wireless can deliver. The desire to avoid costly and damaging safety incidents, as well as the pressure to improve operational efficiency to remain competitive, will be substantial drivers for adoption across all areas of connected safety. This is further supported by advances in cloud technology, which helps speed up the uptake of information collected from new transportable devices, including the latest multi-threat monitors. These are easy and flexible to deploy, such devices help facility managers anticipate, and respond to, changes in requirements and scale quickly and efficiently.
Additionally, as connectivity expands the potential for real-time intelligence gathering from gas detection devices, businesses will benefit from a vast amount of data gathered from the facility and the biometric variables of the workers. This will help them to monitor worker wellbeing more effectively, and act proactively to prevent injury, for example if their blood pressure or heart rate starts to rise. The environmental data gathered about the facility can also help to plan maintenance, identify potential risks in advance and develop comprehensive health and safety strategies.
With a number of benefits already available, it is easy to see that the future of gas detection is wireless. Connected gas detectors help reduce the risks facilities and maintenance teams encounter in their daily tasks, provide better protection for the facility, enable businesses to comply with health and safety regulations and help safety managers reach their ultimate goal of sending workers home safe and sound after every shift.
Prabhu Soundarraja is global business director for connected worker at Honeywell Industrial Safety. For more information visit, www.honeywell.com