RFID Technology: Bringing Steel Manufacturing Personnel Safety to a New Level

Dec. 16, 2010
A Personal Safety System allows plants to create simple tools to monitor safety compliance rules, detect unauthorized zone entry in real-time, and report on all safety violations and compliance.

Statistics show that the steel manufacturing industry has been and still is one of the most dangerous working environments today for reasons including operating dangerous machinery and equipment, heavy and fast moving material handling equipment, high heat and explosive areas, high working elevations and more.

While manual safety related policies and procedures can be routinely practiced and strictly enforced, the unfortunate truth is that incidents still occur due to human error, unforeseen circumstances and the nature of the steel manufacturing environment. However, it is reassuring that further action can minimize injuries and fatalities through advancements in technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and a Personnel Safety System (PSS).

Why PSS?

Personnel Safety Systems from companies like Zebra Technologies, equipped with RFID and ultra wide-band (UWB) technology, are designed to automate safety processes. Because UWB technology is certified to uphold in harsh and densely metallic environments and in the presence of explosive gases, a PSS solution is especially durable in the process manufacturing industry. PSS provides real-time visibility into the location and identification of thousands of workers and visitors both indoors and outdoors, allowing for increased safety and incident prevention.

The PSS solution addresses safety issues through a robust software application along with active RFID technology. Once a person and/or asset has been tagged with an active RFID tag, they are tracked in real-time with precise location accuracy. The active RFID technology used for personnel and asset tracking is UWB, a proven technology used today within the steel manufacturing industry for material tracking applications.

Prevention and Safety Compliance

Because accidents can impact an organization not only by jeopardizing employee health and safety, but also through increased costs and fines, negative attention and damage to a company's reputation, it is important to take measures to prevent incidents and comply with safety regulations. Facilities must monitor those moving throughout the premises and keep a close eye on any potentially dangerous equipment and high-value assets.

With a PSS solution, reducing injuries and fatalities associated with material handling equipment collisions with other equipment and/or a person can be achieved through real-time alerts and notifications such as audible and visual alarms as well as integrating with external applications. Additionally, injuries and fatalities associated with people entering unsafe work areas or zones can be monitored and avoided based on user defined rules with notifications that can include audible and visual alarms along with SMS text messaging and/or email.

A PSS solution also allows manufacturing plants to take prevention measures, including:

  • Creating temporary work zones and verifying work permits in real-time
  • Organizing personnel and visitors into groups with specific security clearances
  • Visualizing personnel, visitor and contractor's precise location on a map
  • Taking real-time zone counts of how many persons are in a certain zone at any given time
  • Controlling access to the facility or parts of it
  • Actively intervening and stopping machines to prevent accidents

Complying with safety regulations and monitoring safety violations is also crucial for incident prevention in the process manufacturing industry. Receiving automatic, real-time statuses of safety practices and procedures while monitoring any safety violations and taking appropriate action to resolve them greatly increases the health and safety of personnel. A PSS system also allows plants to create simple tools to monitor safety compliance rules, detect unauthorized zone entry in real-time, and report on all safety violations and compliance.

Visitor Management

Accidents in warehouses can occur when visitors wander about the warehouse, unaware of dangers, and do not have the proper safety or zone training. With the PSS solution, visitors are given a UWB badge and checked in so the badge and the visitor are associated with one another and thus trackable. Visitors' unique badge identifiers are associated with their privileges within the plant, whether that be the need for an escort at all times, restricted zone access, or safety training restrictions.

Real-time accountability for all plant visitors and contractors reduces and/or eliminates people from entering or exiting their designated work areas and zones. In the event that a violation occurs, notification is delivered to a designated supervisor. With a PSS solution, facilities are also able to take other measures to ensure the safety of visitors, including:

  • Developing simple checkboxes that enable safety rules, for example, escort required or safety training
  • Creating notifications if unescorted visitors enter unauthorized zones
  • Checking visitors in and out of the tracking system
  • Ensuring that all visitors are with their designated escorts so they do not accidentally put themselves in harm's way.

Emergencies and Evacuations

The PSS solution allows those in the process manufacturing industry to not only take measures to prevent incidents, but also to manage evacuations and emergencies when they do arise. Because this solution is able to account for all workers and visitors, evacuations are streamlined and organized, and rescue operations can take place more quickly and efficiently. With a visual overview of evacuations, RFID technology provides reliable real-time information on the status and progress of an evacuation. Further, PSS allows plants to automatically count the visitors and personnel within the plant, eliminating the human error of manual head counts.

Automatically tracking and accounting for all persons during a disaster and evacuation while ensuring they reached a safe zone will drastically improve response time to locate and rescue anyone who remains in danger. A PSS solution ensures rescue teams can find all personnel and visitors in a facility during an emergency, and also increases the speed of rescue, making it safer for the person in distress as well as the rescue teams searching for them. The solution provides "red" counts of people who have not evacuated and "green" counts of those who have gotten to a safe area on a visual map of the facility.

After emergencies, plants are then able to replay the evacuation in full and evaluate their procedures for efficiency. Playback status provides the ability to view history or origin of a particular event which may have resulted in an injury, fatality or disaster. Custom reports are available to critique and enhance future safety practices and procedures. With these past incidents on record, steel manufacturing facilities are able to reconstruct incidents for analysis, verify the safety track record of a facility and generate reports to show trends over time.

Because the steel manufacturing industry is one of the most dangerous working environments, safety policies and procedures will always be put in place and hopefully enforced to the fullest but, accidents can still occur. Those accidents can be reduced, however, to an absolute minimum with RFID technology in a PSS solution alongside safety policies.

J.W. Franz is a sales sonsultant for Concept2 Solution, which offers solutions ranging from custom software development to packaged products and services.

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