The Urgency—Or Lack Thereof—To Digitize Industrial Hygiene Practices
You are a supervisor for a large plant maintenance team at a very large chemical processing facility. At this instant, more than 10 workers from your team are performing hazardous tasks.
Your job becomes a lot easier if you know the exact location of each worker in real time and the exact levels of hazardous agents that may be present in their vicinity, and if you can communicate with them directly no matter where they are in the plant. Because the workers are all wearing dedicated, connected devices that are collecting and streaming information to you as their supervisor, your job becomes easier—or does it?
Let’s explore that question.
Connected Devices for Industrial Hygiene
An organization will have broad business goals like ensuring the safety of their workers, enabling immediate response, demonstrating compliance, and reducing costs when evaluating whether to pursue a strategy of using wearables and other connected devices for industrial hygiene. IT departments may provide some push based on larger initiatives around digital transformation and IoT (the Internet of Things).
Potential benefits of using connected devices for IH include:
- immediate response to hazardous conditions or incidents (for example, H2S exposure)
- a huge increase in available data for further insight, predictive analysis, prioritizing of monitoring plans, and refinement of SEG definitions
- lower costs
- situational awareness (for example, if an evacuation is triggered, you can know when everyone is out and accounted for)
To attain the business goals of connected devices and realize their benefits, both the IT department and EHS professionals will have to overcome the following barriers:
- employees will have valid concerns regarding privacy that have to be addressed
- the possibility that risk actually will increase due to complacency as workers learn to rely on the devices
- the possibility that data collected by these devices cannot be used in legal proceedings
- the cost of purchasing, calibrating, maintaining, storing, and charging the devices
- the effort of provisioning, system rollout, and user training
- cybersecurity risks
As technology continues to improve and lessons are learned from early adopters, the barriers to success will diminish, making it easier for organizations to make the move to a connected work force. Some solution vendors have come up with very smart, even ingenious ways to deal with these barriers. One of the critical success factors for IH digital transformation is finding those vendors and making sure their solutions match the needs of your organization. This is a nascent market space with a large variety of vendors and an even larger array of products and solutions at different levels of maturity.
The Bottom Line
It is clear based on the mix of vendors at AIHce EXP 2018 and other relevant events that the supply side of the market is indicating an urgency to get workers connected and enable true real-time monitoring of exposure and immediate response to hazardous situations. This urgency is based on commercial aspirations, for sure; but there is also a true belief that a digitized and intelligent industrial hygiene process with connected wearable devices, workers, and software solutions can reduce exposure risk, improve safety performance, create business value, and reduce costs to the organization. The device vendors and software companies that are working (together) to provide these solutions to the market are making the assumption that industrial hygienists and other EHS practitioners understand the potential of such solutions and will start working on ways to accelerate their adoption. Current technology trends in the broader context of society indicate this is a safe assumption. The open questions are how fast the EHS profession will move forward, and how quickly their investments gain value.