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Hazardous work areas have been severely limited in terms of operational modernization because of the safety risks associated with electrical accidents. In the oil and gas (O&G) industry, worker safety has to remain the top priority — even above efficiency — due to the volatile nature of the products that are extracted, transported and refined. In extraction alone, 489 workers were killed on the job between 2013 to 2017. O&G businesses smartly put safety first in all phases of operations, and achieve the greatest efficiencies they can once safety is ensured.
Although this approach is necessary, it also hampers the workers themselves. While workers in nonhazardous areas use mobile devices to connect to core business applications, record data and communicate, hazardous-area workers have been forced to rely on paper, landline phones and desktop computers. Ineffecient communications, delayed access to applications and repeat data entry are the norm when mobile devices are not being used.
Intrinsically safe devices offer an alternative: They help O&G workers improve productivity, and offer connectivity even in remote locations — without compromising worker safety.
The Case for Intrinsically Safe Devices
The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) classifies O&G into distinct segments: oil and gas extraction, drilling oil and gas wells, and support activities for oil and gas operations. No matter which segment a worker belongs to, they are likely to work in hazardous conditions which may involve exposure to chemicals, risk of fire or explosion, remote locales and confined spaces such as wells or pipelines and machines. Given the range of hazards, OSHA mandates that all field equipment be certified for use in hazardous areas.
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Traditionally, the only technologies that could qualify were hardbound field manuals and ruggedized laptops, which come up short when workers are in remote areas onsite. There are several challenges to productivity when using these outdated tools.
- Clunky access: Carrying laptops, however ruggedized they may be, leaves workers juggling heavy and unwieldy equipment in the field. This means laptops might not always be used at the point where they are needed the most. O&G workers might instead forego important communications, or lean on paper solutions such as clipboards and blueprints.
- Static information: Using paper solutions or even laptops with flaky connectivity means field workers might not be able to access the most updated and accurate information in real time. Given the risks and high costs associated with downtime, businesses are disadvantaged when real-time information and communication are unavailable to support worker performance.
- Phase lag in communication: Using laptops and paper in the O&G industry might lead to hiccups in communication, which could mean that not everyone in the field and in the corporate office are on the same page at the same time. Daily or even hourly field reports can be filed or called in, but might get pushed aside if they’re not automated into the regular workflow.
Why Intrinsically Safe Devices Are Essential Allies
Outdated technology can exact a steep price in O&G. Fortunately, intrinsically safe mobile devices such as Pepperl+Fuchs’ Tab-Ex® 02 deliver efficiency while also meeting necessary safety standards for operating under hazardous conditions.
Intrinsically safe mobile devices liberate field workers from clunky laptops. Their light weight and ruggedness allow them to be easily carried to the location they are needed. Using mobile tablets, workers can use LTE connectivity to access virtually any company application and gain access to real-time communications and data. Equally important, employees and project managers can manage workflow from different remote locations, and still be on the same page. No more communication speed bumps — all stakeholders get the same information that is updated as it is changed, in real time.
Augmented reality solutions on mobile devices from Pepperl+Fuchs even allow O&G workers to call in for technical assistance while on the road. Workers can overlay accurate site maps and contrast them against the situation on the ground to pinpoint problems and related solutions easily. With the high-resolution camera, expert help can remotely view problematic areas and provide help as needed.
Device security is also an important consideration in O&G. Samsung devices are secure with biometric authentication, so only authorized individuals can access stored data and information systems. As part of a mobile device management (MDM) package, these tablets can use Samsung solutions such as Knox Mobile Enrollment and Knox Manage for deployment and device management. They can also use Knox Configure to preconfigure a device desktop or homepage.
Since O&G has a variety of challenging hazardous operational conditions, equipment has only been rigorous enough for work onsite if it compromises efficiency — until now. Intrinsically safe mobile devices marry safety and productivity in one platform to protect workers and meet OSHA requirements, while also facilitating robust workflow processes.