Protecting personnel with gas detection technology

Louise Smyth

With the processing of oil and gas comes many inherent hazards, from the combustibility of the products themselves to harmful or even deadly gases. These hazards, coupled with a diverse variety of applications that involve the use and manufacture of highly dangerous substances, mean that the continued safe functioning and use of gas detector fleets is central to reducing risks to personnel and plant. Here, we look at how gas detection technology is improving fleet safety via a transformation of the way devices are managed, and how operator safety is monitored while at work.

Improvements in safety, both in practice and equipment, have essentially always stemmed from one thing: the availability of good information. In the past, that learning was often observational, based on talking to individuals, or derived from scrutiny or analysis of historic written and pictorial hard copy records.

Today, thanks to the advances in digital data capture and recording by sensors and devices, information is a commodity that is not in short supply. The seamless connectivity driving the Internet of Things (IoT) is already touching workplaces globally. The latest flame and gas detection devices typically offer the ability to log performance and environmental data. But translating that into tangible learning is not always easy.

The big data challenge for gas detection devices

Due to the sheer volume of devices and test requirements, the processing and intelligently analysing of large data volumes, particularly when gathered from real-time streams, is now one of the oil and gas industry’s biggest challenges. And for data to be meaningful, it has to provide real insight. That starts with being able to automatically detect, highlight, interrogate and share those events that are most relevant and significant to the operation of a device, or the ability of an operative to complete his or her work safely.

Recent advancements of AI-enabled automated reporting tools allow safety managers to look beyond just managing safety compliance towards changing how workplace safety really works. The ability to analyse and review historic logged data and extract actionable information to reduce risk and improve workplace safety is transformative.

Data analysis and proactive maintenance can help to streamline the day-to-day monitoring of equipment, eliminate the potential risk of human error, and free up time for safety managers to concentrate on driving meaningful behavioural safety improvements. Automatic notifications, for instance, can highlight when equipment components are likely to require maintenance or replacement, allowing pre-emptive action. Worker safety is improved, and costly downtime or operational delays minimised.

Gas detection devices, for example, rely on sensors that have a finite lifetime. Analysis of usage data can automatically highlight that a sensor’s end-of-life is approaching, and a replacement should be ordered.

Similarly, correct detector operation is verified by using bottled gas testers before use. If the gas runs out, detectors cannot be tested. Safety protocol dictates that operatives cannot work. Yet by providing automated alerts about remaining capacity, spare cylinders can be ordered in good time. The ability to instantly track equipment and its location digitally, without resorting to lists on clipboards, also offers significant savings in time and loss of assets.

Streamlining turnarounds safely with gas detection technology

Turnarounds (or TARs) are essential – yet extremely expensive – periods of regeneration for plants and refineries. Taking an entire part of an operation offline while plants are inspected and/or revamped can cost millions a day and workforces can double or even triple from say 500 on a typical downstream site to over 1,000 to get the job done as quickly as possible.

This huge influx of workers undoubtedly increases safety managers’ reliance on gas detection technology. They simply cannot comprehensively keep track of the functionality of their gas detector fleets and the workers using them without it.

Cloud-based platforms for managing the health of fixed and portable gas detection services help to mitigate the administrative and management burden on safety managers at these challenging times, ensuring that their fleets are available, functioning correctly, ready for use and compliant. What’s more, these systems are a key driver behind helping to achieve compliant operational practices, flagging whether operatives aren’t following strict standard operating procedures. With many new contractors on-site, the ability to identify those posing a risk and swiftly move to re-educate or retrain them is vital.

Historically, daily data would remain on each device and be routinely overwritten, unless an event prompted a sporadic download or a written report. Today, maintaining historic central archives of gas detection device data – sometimes spanning decades – provides companies with an invaluable record. Any exposure incidents or toxic breaches can be thoroughly analysed and documented.

For workers, the advent of real-time monitoring during operations via live feeds is revolutionising safety. Data streaming can provide safety controllers and colleagues with situational awareness, physical status and the ability for workers to issue individual or team evacuation alarms and even mobilise first responders should a situation arise.

Developing next-generation safety technology is of course hugely dependent on innovation but truly understanding customer needs and feedback to engineer the necessary hardware and software functionality is of equal importance. It’s listening carefully to customer feedback and applying those learnings in an innovative way that produces next-generation safety technology.

Adoption will stand or fall on the ability of solutions to add value to multiple stakeholders without completely changing the way safety management and procedures work. Seamless integration and easy, intuitive operation only comes from extended testing by everyone involved – from safety managers to supervisors through to operatives. Of course, innovation is meaningless unless the underlying outcome offers a real-world, practical benefit.

There is no doubt that technological advances are having a huge impact on the world as a whole. All things considered, the health and safety industry should embrace the opportunities new technologies provide to keep workers connected, thus providing an additional layer of safety through technology.

MSA’s mantra is certainly to encourage the industry to ‘expect more’ from gas detection technology and programmes. The reason behind the creation of Safety io is to pioneer technology advancements, with the ultimate goal of improving decision making, reinforcing best practices and pursuing a safety-first, injury-free workforce. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.

Matt deLorenzo is Safety with Safety io, an MSA Safety company

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