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IoT Industrial Connected

Reimagining Safety with the Industrial Internet of Things

Harnessing safety and operational data substantially can improve safety compliance and performance.

Industrial workplace safety is a multifaceted issue. It includes asset safety – machinery, process and arc flash safety – along with other common hazards. Workplace safety is vital to protecting workers, avoiding production interruptions and achieving operational excellence.

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) – the connected enterprise – provides safety professionals with real-time understanding of worker behaviors, machinery compliance, causes of safety shutdowns or stoppages and safety anomalies and trends. It also comes with challenges, including:

Worker behaviors (culture): Machinery design should consider every human-task interaction within machinery or equipment. Operators may bypass poorly-designed safety systems that don't take these interactions into account. Even in a well-designed safety system, workers may not follow standard operating procedures, resulting in unnecessary downtime.

An evolving workforce: A major workforce shift is underway worldwide, and the safety implications are significant. Older workers are at higher risk for certain injuries and can take longer to recover. Younger, less-experienced workers are more injury-prone and tend to have more serious injuries. Finding, hiring, retaining and getting the most from every employee is critical to business success.

Machinery stoppages: Stoppages can happen for any number of reasons: jams, misfeeds, adjustments, changeovers, maintenance and more. Companies often have minimal visibility into why or when these stoppages occur, preventing them from understanding the root cause of stoppages.

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

Data management: In sharp contrast to the use of real-time data and seamless connectivity in the rest of the production environment, many safety professionals rely on outdated data collection and reporting methods. The systems in which this data is stored often are not connected to plant floor systems.

Rise of the Connected Enterprise

The connected enterprise is 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. This insight supports better decision-making and company-wide productivity.

Contemporary safety technologies combine machinery and safety control into one platform. These systems are less susceptible to nuisance shutdowns than hardwired safety systems, which help improve productivity and profitability.

They also offer another key benefit: access to safety-system data, including operational status, event sequences and timers, stoppage and fault codes and more.

Using this data, safety and operations professionals can work together to better understand safety risks, reduce safety-related downtime, evaluate machinery and safety system use and misuse, improve machinery compliance and reduce injuries.

Putting 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 identifying discrepancies between machinery design and assessment, and how well operation and maintenance procedures are followed in day-to-day operations.

For example, e-stop buttons are intended for use only in emergencies, but workers can easily misuse them to clear jams or stop production at the end of a cycle. Inappropriate usage can lead to increased scrap and longer machine start-up times, reducing productivity.

It also dramatically reduces the lifespan of electromechanical devices in a safety system, so the safety system will fail earlier than designed, reducing compliance. Similarly, if the assessment revealed that a door on a machine should be opened twice per shift to lubricate the machine and the machine is designed to slow to a safe speed when the door is opened, a significant difference between expectation and reality should trigger alarm and investigation.

For example, if the door remains closed, it could be an indication that the door interlocks are being overridden by workers in order to lubricate the machine without slowing it, placing them at risk. Or, it could indicate that maintenance is not being performed at all, reducing the life and productivity of the machine.

If the door is being opened too frequently, it may indicate that the machine is not performing as expected and is requiring increased maintenance, or that the door is being opened for other reasons. More frequent operation of the door interlock would change its lifespan and safety performance calculation, raising compliance issues.

In all these cases, understanding what is taking place and determining the root cause is vital to optimizing the productivity of workers and machinery, minimizing costs and keeping people safe.

The data for these actions isn't being captured in most plants today. This lack of insight hinders safety professionals from identifying misuse of safety systems and can present vexing challenges for those seeking to drive continuous improvements in their EHS performance. It also limits plant managers from truly understanding and addressing downtime issues.

Safety system data can be captured from information-enabled devices in a connected enterprise, including safety system activation timestamp, duration and the line and shift associated with each activation. Stoppage reason codes also can be built in to convey why a machine was stopped, such as for jams, misfeeds, cleaning and more.

Safety professionals can identify if safeguards are being operated abnormally, investigate the issue's root cause and identify if higher activation rates are associated with specific production lines or shifts, which could indicate the need for additional training for a select group of workers.

These capabilities ultimately allow safety professionals to identify and resolve areas where safety's execution on the plant floor falls short of the safety strategy defined in the EHS management system by helping them:

Better understand safety risks: Risk assessments are vital at the design stage to identify machine safety risks and risk-reduction measures. After the design stage, the assessment data rarely is used again.

he availability of safety data in a connected enterprise brings renewed purpose to risk assessment data in the form of a risk calculator. This tool easily can be configured as a basic table within enterprise manufacturing intelligence software.

Safety professionals can provide anticipated use frequency data from a machine's risk assessment as a baseline for safety performance. They then can compare this against the machine's actual use frequency data. The result is an unprecedented capability to measure anticipated risk against actual risk for each machine access point.

Enhance safety: Connecting people, equipment and worksites creates new opportunities to enhance worker and environmental safety, including:

Remote access: Transportation incidents are a top cause of fatal work injuries in the United States. Remote monitoring of dispersed or isolated operations can reduce worker travel demands, such as the need for oil and gas workers to travel across sites to check on wellheads, pump stations and storage sites.

Operations visibility: Visibility into manufacturing process states, environmental conditions and other factors can be critical when working with hazardous materials or in harsh conditions.

Worker locating: Network connectivity can be a company's only link when its employees are working in isolated locations. Wearable sensors can locate workers in hard-to-reach places during an emergency. Video, voice and display technologies also can help monitor and communicate with these employees should a safety incident occur.

Information delivery: Wireless and mobile technology can support workers by delivering information in a convenient way.

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.

Additionally, improved safety-system diagnostics can alert operators and technicians to safety-related failures and where they are occurring during runtime operations. This can simplify troubleshooting and lead to faster downtime resolutions. The diagnostics can be used in predictive analytics to identify leading indicators and address machine issues before they become machine failures.

Ease compliance: By integrating auditing functions into the control system, organizations can automate and speed up the process, free up personnel to focus on other priorities and reduce the likelihood of errors. Abnormalities can be annunciated and reported to help plant personnel quickly spot and address potential issues.

Transform operations with safety in mind: Connected operations present opportunities for companies to create inherently safer operations.

For example, manned topside platforms used in offshore 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. Ethernet-connected subsea platforms that pump gas directly to onshore production facilities can reduce the need for manned topside platforms.

The growing use of connected, autonomous technologies in mining operations also is creating new opportunities to help minimize safety risks. Mining companies already are using autonomous trucks and trains to transport materials. The driverless vehicles can be tracked and controlled from a central location, resulting in true “pit to port” connectivity.


While all of these benefits are more easily realized in a fully-connected enterprise, they also can be achieved in an iterative process as companies become increasingly connected. Regardless of the approach a company takes, some key steps are crucial to making the most of safety in connected, information-enabled operations:

1. Active EHS representation – Connected operations span people, processes and technology. Bringing people together from across an organization 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 professionals.

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?
  • Is safety data manually collected or is it automated in a data- collection system?
  • What safety data already is available? How is it reported?
  • Does equipment or machinery have central network connectivity?
  • Could safety data be collected using an existing data-collection platform?

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
  • How it will be contextualized and delivered as actionable information
  • Who will receive the information
  • What actions will result from the information

4. Implement or upgrade safety systems – Safety system data already is 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 then can be contextualized within a plant's existing EMI software and delivered to safety and operations personnel in the form of relevant, actionable information via EMI dashboards.

5. Analyze and optimize – Getting information to workers is important, but so is getting workers to act on the information.

Incorporating safety system information into daily operations is critical. Analytics should be included in daily production meetings, and standard procedures should be developed for collecting, analyzing 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 program. Safety professionals also can use the safety system data to better measure and meet their corporate safety goals.

The ability to access, analyze 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 reimagine operations as innately safer.

It's important to remember that a connected enterprise is an ongoing journey. The technologies and opportunities within it will continue to evolve. Companies should be mindful of this and constantly seek opportunities to improve their future state.

Steve Ludwig is program manager, safety for Rockwell Automation. He is a frequent writer and speaker relating to safety and machinery automation. You can reach him at [email protected]

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