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Playing it safe: Five steps to boost safety and increase profitability using technology

Traditionally, safety and profitability have seemed to be diametrically opposed for many manufacturing and production operations. Although no-one disputes the value of investing in safety, the primary objective for a manufacturing or production business is to drive profitability, and protecting the safety of the plant’s people, assets and environment have often been viewed as somewhat necessary evils to achieve the bottom line.

However, the safety of a business can have a direct, positive impact on the operational profitability of the plant. A safe operation is one where production isn’t forced to stop due to downtime, repair, or – even worse – an injury caused by incident. Less-than-compliant conditions that cause production stoppages will have a direct effect on revenue. Such occurrences, along with potential worker compensations costs or regulatory penalties, can add up to far more than the cost of prevention, i.e., the expense of installing safety systems and equipment.

The potential for increased operational profitability that can be realised through more effective safety management is really starting to turn heads, and is truly bringing safety and environmental integrity into the mainstream of industrial business processes.

The recent technological revolution and the proliferation of devices to be connected to the internet or a cloud has resulted in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-related technologies across industries. This technology influx has changed industrial work execution processes which, in turn, may require modifications to the way safety is managed, especially in high hazard industries.

The five steps for integrating new IIoT technologies to better manage risk and hazards and to avoid costly unscheduled asset downtime are as follows:

  1. Digitise and connect

A first step in the process is to capture the data flowing from the various safety related tools such as Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS), Safety Instrumented Functions (SIF), Layer of Protection Analysis systems (LOPA), Process Hazards Analysis tools (PHA), and Hazard and Operability tools (HAZOP).

By digitally connecting to existing systems and data sources, the need for manual data collection and data handling is minimised and the new real-time information can then complement the safety information gleaned from existing reports.

Newer software offerings such as SIF Manager from Schneider Electric provide persistent monitoring, validation, and documentation of all aspects of SIF performance for the life of the plant. Automatically tracking SIF key performance indicators (KPIs) and SIS device metrics can reduce manual efforts by as much as 90%. Over the operating life of an asset, this might represent savings of from $1 million to $2 million.

  1. Analyse

Safety analytics can be descriptive, diagnostic, predictive or prescriptive. Once the data is collected and the type of analysis required is determined, this analytical data crunching can help plant personnel determine the optimal production and maintenance activities across multiple assets to reduce cumulative risk and to minimize downtime.

  1. Deploying the cloud

Using the cloud for digital safety design, analysis and validation makes it easily accessible to everyone, anywhere and at any time. Safety data and its context is available to experts anywhere in the world. Such a solution also drives transparency throughout the organisation and removes the traditional barriers and silos within departments, management structures, assets and/or fleets of assets.

  1. Simulation

Virtual models referred to as “digital twins” analyse the gathered data and then use it to run simulations and to benchmark performance, allowing plant operators to pinpoint where efficiency gains can be made. By pairing both virtual and physical worlds (the twins), problems can be actively averted before they occur, preventing potentially threatening safety situations.

  1. Integrate a cybersecurity strategy

Digitisation of course comes with its own risks, namely the threat of cyberattacks. Safety teams must examine whether it makes sense to enable safety systems for internet connectivity at all and, if so, under what conditions. In some cases, a tool such as the plant historian might require access to safety-related data or information.

In summary, IIoT has the potential to be transformative when applied correctly to process safety and there are instances where IIoT tools and techniques can deliver profitable safety.

Safety is not simply a compliance program or an add-on. It’s a corporate value – a way of respecting and caring for the people that keep the company running. Continuous improvement and investment in safety demonstrate that you’re committed to protecting them on the job, and ensuring that they can go home to families, friends, and loved ones at the end of every day. So each safety decision must adequately protect the functioning and lives of your workers and contractors, as well as the community. Unsafe production costs money, while safe production makes money.

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