Smart technology ties work sites together for improved safety and communication

Automated and customized notifications can be sent to multiple users.

Automated and customized notifications can be sent to multiple users. 

Smart technology ties work sites together for improved safety and communication

Employees using portable devices can stay connected in high risk locations

Site managers are always looking for ways to track operations more closely as a method of protecting their employees from potentially dangerous situations and improving efficiency. When dozens – or hundreds – of employees are moving around during their various tasks, it’s virtually impossible to know where they all are or communicate when there’s a need to do so.

The advent of smart technology is aiding in expanding that connectivity as applications are developed to take advantage of portable devices used by most every employee. Cell phones, tablets and similar technology can be tapped into as a quick and effective communication method to keep workers on the same page.

Growing and remote work sites are a challenge to safely manage, related Jae Reichel, the CEO of Lightship, a company developing applications tying mobile devices with worksite technology to track and improve practices and communications.

“On big sites that have a tendency to have more than 150 employees and be high risk, such as mines or oil and gas sites, it can be really difficult and time consuming to find, communicate with and manage the people that you work with day to day,” Reichel said.

He speaks from experience; a long background building gas gathering lines in Alberta with his own oil field service company taught him that large projects have difficulties managing communications because of slow acceptance when it comes to new operation methods.

“I went out on a project just a few months ago, a big multi-million-dollar hydro project, and was disappointed to see that in the five years I’d been out of the business basically nothing had changed, even with a very progressive operator who has access to a lot of budget,” he said. “It was still radios and cell phones, a bunch of single-use applications these guys were struggling to use dealing with the complexity of this big site.”

Site communication management and control is not a simple task. Many planners develop complicated models that are difficult to use, and struggle through with them. That’s not necessary with greater acceptance of mobile devices on job sites, Reichel said.

“There are good options from just the last six months allowing people to use an iPhone or Android device in intrinsic environments, which opens up a lot of oil and gas sites that would have been closed to them before,” he noted.

Lightship’s approach to worksite management hinges on those improvements. Its system is designed to provide real-time views of the entire worksite by connecting with mobile devices and worksite sensors. The system can track and communicate with thousands of people, and can also provide a perfect memory of worksite events, the company states.

Reichel said Lightship started by looking at emergency management, a key focus for site managers.

“Being one of those guys out in the field, I knew that when something went wrong the only tools that I really had were my coil-bound book and my cell phone to try and coordinate a response,” he said. “We really quickly figured out that if we were going to build the best emergency response system there is, it couldn’t be just an emergency response system.”

A dedicated emergency system is only used in two situations, Reichel said: when staff is doing safety drills once every few months, and when a real emergency occurs. That leaves workers rusty on the operation when it’s needed the most.

The answer is to incorporate emergency response and safety into the overall system, he said.

“What you do is break down the traditional silos and give people an application they’re working with every day, that’s delightful to use just for day to day communication and management,” he said. “Then, from the same thing they were just using to tell someone they needed a wrench, they can coordinate a complex response.”

The Lightship Core system is a web-based application that can be used on any authorized connected device, either in the office or working remotely.

Once the core system is organized and set up for use, a custom integration system allows operators to integrate important on-site systems directly into Lightship’s offering. Employees can download the app onto their devices, and managers can use the system as a comprehensive tool on job sites.

“From a connected computer in the office you can click on someone from the screen, call their phone or send an email. You can track down individual groups – if you needed to talk to all the welders, all the medics, or all the supervisors on site, you can search for all those people and send them a message,” Reichel described.

Managers can also step into situations in real-time when they need to.

“A lot of emergency systems are okay at dealing with very simple incidents, but when there’s cascading incidents, that’s where other systems will inevitably fail,” Reichel said. “If there’s an H2S alarm, you tell people to get out, and afterward someone who’s leaving falls or gets exposed to the gas and is incapacitated. Those are secondary alarms that others might miss. This gives you that alarm, and as a manager you can see, say, that one of your three welders has their SCBA gear and can send them to save that person’s life.”

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