In recent years, manufacturing has experienced many operational changes, one of the most predominant of which has been the industry’s adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT)—a concept used to describe a network of physical devices embedded with electronics, software, and sensors that collect and exchange data through an existing internet connection. The IoT has provided those in manufacturing with a better way to monitor, track, and improve plant activity with real time data.
Pharmaceutical manufacturing is just one of many industry sectors that has benefited from having this network of connected devices with better visibility over equipment and processes to help improve worker efficiencies; however, another area it is improving is safety. Today’s connected devices are helping safety managers more easily recognize and respond to hazards, while also collecting data that measures the facility’s existing risks and near misses. This level of increased visibility of safety concerns as they happen provides companies with a better picture of the overall safety culture and areas that need correcting and the ability to respond in real time.
Let’s explore some of the ways IoT and plant connectivity is helping to reduce worker risk and improve compliance in pharmaceutical manufacturing by making workplaces safer.
Sensors & Wearables
Sensors and wearable technology have, perhaps, the greatest potential to improve workplace safety because of their ability to monitor worker movement, health vitals, and external conditions in real time. These devices not only alert workers of any dangers, but can also collect data that allows safety managers to understand why, how, and when an incident occurred.
Today’s worker sensor and wearable devices have the ability to measure temperature extremes or ambient noise that approaches a dangerous level. Others monitor for a wide-range of odorless and hazardous chemicals, signaling when exposure has reached a critical limit. Manufacturing incidents and worker injuries typically don’t happen in a silo—often there is a chain reaction that results in an issue or worker injury. For those in pharmaceutical manufacturing who come into daily contact with numerous hazardous chemicals, a wearable device that alerts users when they are within range of a hazardous material is a critical tool against the day-to-day dangers they face. It puts worker safety at the forefront, allowing not only for easier detection, but can collect data that could possibly prevent the incident from occurring again.
In short, the value of the IoT is the potential to predict and prevent events from occurring and to connect the dots between events and their true causes.
There is debate among experts whether mobile should be considered a true part of the IoT revolution; however, many in the EHS industry view the impact that the adoption of mobile has had on the collecting and sharing critical safety information with a wider group of workers as an essential component of the IoT. In the past, EHS professionals would have relied on a few inputs for safety data. Today, those same professionals have the potential to turn every employee into a source of critical information. From that perspective, the evolution of EHS mobile applications has greatly extended the implementation of IoT in manufacturing.
Mobility in EHS has seen rapid growth over the last few years due to workers’ increased access to personal mobile devices. According to a study released by IDC last year, the number of mobile workers in the United States will exceed 100 million by 2020, as more companies and individuals begin to realize the promise of mobile solutions in the workplace. With mobile use currently predicted to be around 96 million, we can only expect the trend towards mobile use in the workplace to further increase.
EHS mobile applications have improved productivity and safety by putting critical information directly into the hands of workers. Mobile scanning, for example, is increasing in popularity by allowing workers to scan container barcodes upon facility arrival and track its location. With some software suppliers, information is then automatically logged into the facility’s inventory, giving others access in the event of an emergency. Other EHS apps allow workers to report safety concerns and observations in real time for more instant feedback from mangers. These mobile apps have also connected facilities and streamlined hazard communication to create safer workplaces for all.
With the enormous volume of data collected by IoT, it’s essential to have a way of aggregating and serving up that information in useful ways. That’s why any conversation around the IoT must also factor in software. Without software, there is no way to analyze that data and turn it into actionable information.
EHS software has experienced many changes over the last few years with the introduction of cloud technology. The cloud has streamlined the sharing of information with a wider group of network users resulting in a greater picture of a facility’s overall productivity and safety. Today’s EHS software not only enables better evaluation of the data collected from sensors, wearables, and mobile apps, but ensures key findings are shared enterprise wide—all in real time.
However, the most critical component of today’s EHS software is that it better supports worker safety by turning their first-hand data into critical key learnings. Safety concerns that once might have been funneled through a reporting channel that relied on laborious paper processing or antiquated spreadsheet systems today can be easily collected and shared with a wide-range of people. Furthermore, timelines for follow-up tasks can be scheduled and tracked automatically. Time is often a critical component of any safety concern; here, too, software streamlines risk mitigation to ensure that incidents or near misses are handled faster.
The EHS technology landscape will continue to change as more innovations and improvements are introduced. Those in pharma manufacturing considering IoT technology as a way to increase productivity should also consider how it will improve workplace safety. By introducing smart devices and mobile apps and ensuring that they are backed up by robust software systems, facilities can have greater control over the worker safety and productivity as a whole.
About the Author
Chuck Haling is the Vice President of VelocityEHS, a leading cloud EHS software company dedicated to helping its customers reach their EHS and sustainability goals faster through a simple and intuitive platform that is more affordable, faster to implement, and aims to provide the best user experience. For more information visit www.EHS.com or call 888-362-2007.