Considered a “critical industry,” chemical manufacturing is one of the most stringently regulated industries worldwide, with national and international protocols governing the fabrication, handling, distribution, use and impacts of chemical inputs and products. The industry is also one of the most heavily regulated in terms of health, safety and environment (HSE) factors. Chemical companies in the United States are required to track toxic release data that monitors effects on the environment, as well as data on illnesses and injuries of employees and the general public related to manufacturing operations. Chemical manufacturers must maintain precise product information, record keeping and quality management data about chemicals and other materials, production techniques, packaging and processes, all of which add time and cost to chemical development and manufacturing.
With such stringent regulation and compliance standards, chemical manufacturers must ensure their operations are running optimally and their employees are protected, plus strive to implement those practices at a sustainable cost. Technology can help. Utilizing mobile and IoT technologies that monitor and regulate processes, chemical companies can reduce risk in operations, thus reducing accident rates and improving HSE compliance.
Monitoring the Health and Safety of Workers
Of the more than $14 billion in HSE spending among U.S. chemical producers in 2017, 17% was dedicated to health and safety measures. Chemical companies spend billions of dollars each year to improve worker health and safety. Technology solutions can help to improve worker safety even further and even reduce emergency response times by up to 95 percent.
If employees carry mobile devices that are certified for hazardous environments like chemical facilities during their workday, they have a constant means of communication with teammates and supervisors. Thus, if they have a health concern or other problem, they can immediately write or call someone to get help. Cloud-connected teams can share valuable information that, whether during emergencies or everyday work, can make the difference between wellness and illness or even life and death.
Intrinsically safe tablets enable not only constant communication but also real-time data management. When workers can quickly access digital handbooks or instructions, they will be more likely to perform tasks using appropriate safety techniques and follow safety protocols. Tablet users can also conduct video chats with offsite experts to ensure proper operation of equipment or other processes.
Documentation of proper chemical manufacturing procedures is required for HSE compliance. Intrinsically safe tablets allow:
- Photo/Video documentation: Employees can use tablets to take photos or video of operations and share those with team members or experts offsite to verify compliance.
- Digital checklists: Checklists of tasks completed with tablets that are connected to internal back-office systems provide time-stamped records can verify that process steps were followed, thus enforcing adherence to protocols and improving accountability.
- Clearly identifiable inventory: Proper labeling of all chemicals involved a manufacturing environment is important for safe operations. When containers are correctly labeled with barcodes, RFID tags or other markers, electronic devices may be used to quickly scan and identify the chemicals, thus avoiding mistakes in mixing or handling. Intrinsically safe tablets with proper scanning software can serve as barcode scanning devices.
- Documentation: Safety data sheets (SDS) or material safety data sheets (MSDS) provide information on the various hazards and safety procedures for the safe use, handling and storage of chemicals. Rather than locating paper/physical SDS documents in a manufacturing facility, that information can be made available in digital form via intrinsically safe tablets, anywhere an employee is working in a plant, ensuring compliance.
Incident Prevention and Reporting
In process safety industries like chemical manufacturing, accident prevention is paramount. Even so, most accidents that occur at chemical plants are caused by human error or complacency when personnel do not follow safety procedures. To ensure chemical manufacturing safety, various measures are recommended:
- Digital procedures: To ensure employees follow mandated procedures, making relevant documentation readily available to them via intrinsically safe, cloud-connected tablets is a good first step.
- Training: Conducting regular, even virtual, training in hazardous areas of operations with certified tablets, is another best practice for maintaining adherence to safety . New visualization technologies like augmented reality can help to train personnel.
- Safety equipment: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require facilities that store or handle chemicals to have emergency equipment installed and available. Having instructions for that equipment readily available via digital records helps make its safe use easier and, thus, more accepted.
- Audits: Performing regular audits, with the help of cloud-based checks via approved mobile devices, ensures personnel are using safe procedures.
- Practice: Practicing safety procedures helps chemical manufacturing teams prepare for emergencies. Conducting drills with the help of various types of alerts sounded on employees’ intrinsically safe tablets can help keep employees ready for real emergencies.
- Monitoring conditions: Cloud technologies such as IoT sensors can monitor conditions surrounding chemical manufacturing as well as conduct remote asset management. Constant monitoring enables chemical facilities to know when an asset is malfunctioning. Real-time data may be fed into continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) to monitor operations, or leaks can be discovered through mass balancing, and then companies can remotely shutdown equipment or update software accordingly via cloud-connected IoT systems.
- Reporting: Any incidents that may occur in chemical manufacturing facilities must be identified, reported, thoroughly investigated and categorized according to compliance metrics. Detailed information about the type, severity and level of response appropriate to a chemical industry accident can be recorded on cloud-synchronized systems via approved devices.
IoT to improve HSE in Chemical
Chemical companies must develop and maintain functional safety management systems (FSMS), which are work processes that assure safety throughout a facility, from its design to implementation to continual operation. Cloud technologies enable chemical manufacturers to better manage HSE requirements and risk in their operations by preempting incidents. When personnel are connected via intrinsically safe tablets, they can be better informed and prepared for dealing with potential emergencies and managing operations in ways that comply with HSE regulatory requirements.
Talk with Aegex Technologies today about our digital solutions that help improve HSE compliance in chemical manufacturing.