Evolving technology changes attitudes about safety

June 15, 2016
Chris Brogli regularly encounters safety systems that he describes as kludgey. That’s tech jargon for a computer system constituted of poorly matched elements. And while Brogli’s official title is global business development manager for Rockwell Automation, a more colloquial label might be “safety de-kludging expert.”

“You’ll see safety systems within a facility that aren’t connected to one another,” he explained. “You’ll see three or four software packages working on one process.” Many industrial safety systems out there are a total mess, he said. They’re kludgey. And kludgey isn’t safe.

The remedy is an offering that Brogli touted during a half-dozen safety-system presentations at TechED this week – the Rockwell Automation machinery Safety Life Cycle, which presents a systematic approach to implementing and maintaining machine safety. This Life Cycle is comprised of five elements: risk assessment, functional specification development, product selection/design/verification, installation and validation, and an operate/maintain/improve plan.

Before a Life Cycle plan is created, Rockwell Automation uses a safety-maturity index tool to evaluate where customers are on the safety journey. It’s a long journey, and enterprises can be found at many different stages. Some, Brogli noted, barely know anything about safety. “They see safety as an obstacle to production. An expense they can’t afford.”

About the author
Chris McNamara is content director of Smart Industry. He has spent 20 years in the corporate-communications/digital-marketing world, while authoring features for a host of newspapers, magazines and websites.  Others operate in a partially safe capacity. Some are overly safe, resulting in inhibited efficiency. And some companies have created the optimum balance between getting things done and getting things done with limited risk.

A lack of education is behind most of the problem. “Decision-makers at some companies don’t see that safety and productivity go hand-in-hand,” surmised the presenter. “They have an old thought process. They’re far removed from the production floor and they still reference a time when safety was an obstacle.”

This prompts Brogli to wear the hat of an educator. “The greatest challenge facing safety is a lack of knowledge,” he summarized, noting that this gap extends from the executives in charge to the engineering and safety teams, which often fail to realize their cooperation is critical. Aligning these two parties ensures that their respective business goals (Go fast! vs. Careful!), are in lockstep. “Companies do their best when engineers and safety professionals are connected at the hip,” he said.

One method of educating customers and enabling them to justify safety projects is, simply put, a peek at the bottom line. Hard ROI figures can be connected to safety initiatives, based on the average cost of workplace injuries, and the fallout from downtime and resulting reduced output. “We can tell decision-makers, ‘You’re no longer going to be having these safety issues that are costing you money,’” explained Brogli. “We can tie ROI to projected revenue increases.”

Another tool in the safety-justification box is the human appeal – the boosted morale that results from a safe production floor. People prefer to work in safe environments, naturally, and happy workers are more productive workers.

Global safety upgrades

Brogli is encouraged by the trend of multinational customers adopting international standards, most commonly ISO 3849 and, to a lesser extent, IEC 62061. Some 80% of multinational companies directly reference ISO 3849 as their main standard, he said.

In the best scenarios, there is a tickle-down effect with industrial safety. A multinational company can influence an entire region by changing mindsets of the local OEMs who work in their facility. These OEMs adopt the proper methodologies and implement them at other local enterprises.

On a global scale, the technological advances of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are encouraging as well. Smart, integrated machines have safety systems built into them, offering owners access to information they previously lacked. Just as machine-generated data enhances productivity, it can simultaneously generate safety information to limit risk in the workplace.

For example, a sensor alerts a controller that a door on a machine that is supposed to open just once during a shift has been opened 120 times. Investigation reveals that a worker was repeatedly going into the machine to fix a jam, violating the plant’s safety protocol. “IIoT elements give you that visibility,” said Brogli. “The IIoT can be a risk-management tool.”

So what’s the larger view -- what’s the modern state of manufacturing safety? Brogli’s take is that we’re still developing. The European market is most mature, with the U.S. market not far behind. Modernized pockets of Asia are very mature; less so in other regions. “And adoption in Latin America is faster than anywhere else in the world,” he said, crediting strong, enforced local standards (Brazil is an example) and the increasing influence of multinational companies.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” said the safety de-kludging expert. “Technology is improving things in that there’s no need to bypass safety elements. We can design flexibility into machines that we couldn’t in the past. Technology is enhancing reliability. It’s enhancing dependability. As a result, we’re seeing a change from safe or productive to safe and productive.”

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