Shining a light on solar power safety

The wind industry is doing a great job of creating safe operating conditions in a frequently hostile and dangerous environment. There have been incidents, to be sure, but in general wind has a great safety record compared to other power sectors.

In part, this may be because it is hard to take safety for granted when you are working on a wind turbine. Up high above the ground, surrounded by moving parts, it makes sense to put safety first. Not all renewable energy workers operate in the face of such clear risks.

Take solar panel installers, for instance. Solar PV has got to be one of the safest forms of power generation you can imagine. It has no moving parts. It will not spill or burn. And if the sun isn’t shining it won’t even produce an electric current.

But that is not to say the sector is free from risk. In 2015, for example, a solar installer tragically died after falling through the roof of a barn in Preston, UK, while he was putting up panels.

His employer, Eco Generation, was fined £45,000 after it emerged the company had failed to provide vital safety equipment. “The court was told there were several measures Eco Generation could have taken to protect workers,” Installer Magazine reported.

As with many work-related incidents, it appears this was sadly a case of an accident that could have been avoided if the right safety culture had been in place.

There are many ways a business can improve safety, and one of the most basic, which will also help to improve business efficiency, is to have a smart tracking system in place so each technician goes to work with the right equipment, in the right condition.

The solar sector might seem like a low-risk industry, but as long as rooftops and high voltages are concerned it would pay to play it safe… and introduce the kinds of technologies that wind companies have been relying on for years.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your business a safer, more efficient place.

What if each item of equipment had a passport?

One of the great things about our data-driven age is the amount of information we can get on everything. From the calories in your breakfast cereal to the second-hand value of your car, information is just a few keystrokes away. And this is just the beginning.

Take personal protective equipment (PPE). Until recently, the most you might know about this was a) whether it was yours and b) where it was.

But since this equipment is essential for safety, it’s useful to know a bit more, like how much it has been used, by who, and for what. The ideal would be for every item to have its own passport: a record of its travels through life.

That ideal is rapidly becoming possible thanks to the advent of smart PPE management platforms such as Papertrail. This technology allows you to keep a track of every inspection from purchase to disposal, along with any extra information you may feel is useful.

This data can help you make decisions about what material to use for given tasks, for example, or when you may need to start thinking about ordering replacements.

Linking this information to each item of PPE is the first step in the ongoing evolution towards the Internet of Things, when intelligence will be embedded into everyday items.

In future, PPE items will be able to tell you where they are and what they are doing in real time, communicating via sensors and sending alerts when problems occur. We’re not quite there yet, but the passport concept is a good indication of the direction of travel.

Find out more about smart PPE management

Welcome to the wind farm technician’s worst hour

It’s a pretty thankless task, saving the world. Those massive wind turbines turning far out to sea need careful nurturing as they fight global warming and bring down the cost of energy.

To look after these gigantic machines, technicians must rise with the first light and prepare meticulously for the day ahead.

Each technician travels many hours a day, from home to a distant port and then out into the vast ocean, enduring drizzle, cold and wind. Then they climb into the belly of an air-slicing monster and scale hundreds of feet into the grey North Sea sky.

There they must stay alert for the tiniest details, like the hairline crack that gives away a budding blade failure or the flicker on a boroscope that signals a gearbox in trouble.

The work must be done carefully but fast: fading light, changing tide, wind picking up, a storm front moving in, can all add to the pressure to work as quickly as possible.

Still, though, every observation must be meticulously noted down, because tomorrow another technician could be climbing these same rungs and looking for the same hairline crack. Then it’s back to the vessel and the long, cold trip back to port.

All the technician wants to do now is get home, to a warm supper. They can’t, though. Instead, they must go to the office and log every note, every incident, every update, into the system, so tomorrow’s crews know where to go and what to look for.

That final hour, cursing as numb fingers make mistakes and numb neurons search for details, is the offshore wind farm technician’s worst. But it need not be so.

With Papertrail, the nightmare hour ceases to exist, because everything they do can be logged as they work. A crack on a blade? Save the photo on Papertrail. A check that a safety hatch is in working order? Add it to Papertrail. A missing harness? Notify it on Papertrail.

Then, as soon as the technician comes within reach of a mobile or Wi-Fi network, the notes on their mobile device flow seamlessly onto the system. So the technician steps off the vessel, waves goodbye, and heads home to get a good night’s rest before the next day.

 Working in renewables? Find out more about how Papertrail can make your life easier.

How smart PPE management is helping training firms

It’s increasingly clear that smart personal protective equipment (PPE) management can help companies with workforces operating in challenging conditions. But what of the companies that train those workforces?

If you are a training company specialising in, say, working at height, then taking good care of your PPE is as important for you as it is for your clients. Perhaps more so, in fact, since you’re supposed to lead by example.

No small wonder, then, that training companies have been among those moving quickest to embrace smart PPE. Take XI Training , one of the leading working-at-height compliance specialists in the UK.

XI Training used to use Microsoft Excel and Ideagen Q-Pulse systems for document management and compliance reporting. But Barry McLeod, sales and marketing manager, says it was “proving to be extremely onerous due to the volume of kit.”

The company switched to Papertrail … and the results have been spectacular. For one client, with operations in Shetland, XI Training estimates the switch from manual to smart PPE systems may have cut down time and effort by 60%.

XI Training is also benefiting from easier audits and greater all-round efficiency. McLeod says Papertrail is “good for clients, good for XI Training and good for colleagues who enjoy using the platform.”

Nor is XI Training alone on this. Other training companies, from C2 Vertical Safety in Sweden to 5th Point in Australia, are using Papertrail to wave goodbye to lost administration time, errors and poor asset utilisation. What about you?

Meet the companies managing PPE in a smarter way

Safety should always be top of mind in the workplace. But the upcoming A+A international trade fair and congress is a good excuse to make sure your health and safety systems are all up to scratch and in line with the latest best practice.

The show is always a great way to learn about safety-enhancing products and to exchange tips with industry peers. And if you look after personal protective equipment (PPE), it’s not just new products you should be checking out.

Companies around the world are also benefiting from smarter PPE management systems, which can help cut costs while improving safety.

The Australian working-at-height training firm 5th Point, for example, uses Papertrail to overcome what it calls the “daunting prospect” of inspecting industrial rope access equipment.

5th Point relies on equipment provided by DMM, which offers Papertrail as its standard PPE management system for customers.

Using the system, “you’re looking at saving up to 90% of your administration time during an inspection,” says Robert Partridge, product manager, without having an impact on health and safety standards.

That is probably why it has been adopted by companies whose workers operate in some of the harshest conditions in the world.

Technicians at Offshore Painting Services, for instance, maintain wind turbines out in the North Sea and cannot afford to work with faulty PPE.

The company uses Papertrail to help safeguard the integrity of its equipment, and has yet to suffer a lost-time incident despite logging hundreds of thousands of on-site man-hours.

If that’s the kind of PPE safety record you would like for your company, then book a demo or join us at A+A in Düsseldorf, Germany, from October 17 to 20.

  • Visit Papertrail at A+A at the DMM (Hall 6/F40) and SingingRock (Hall 6/C48) stands.

Where PPE meets the Internet of Things

There’s a comment in the A+A international trade fair and congress programme that we couldn’t agree with more.

“The use of new materials and of smart and innovative approaches enables solutions to be developed that substantially enhance safety and the protection of health,” it says.

We back that sentiment 100% because at Papertrail we are working hard to increase the penetration of such smart solutions in the market.

As we mention in a recent white paper, adding intelligence to personal protective equipment (PPE) systems can help improve safety not only by making it easier for asset owners to check on the status of equipment, but also by improving quality control.

“Smart PPE systems can be integrated with manufacturer inventory databases so equipment data can be imported seamlessly and easily,” the paper says.

“This integration allows equipment owners to create and maintain a ‘digital certificate of ownership’ that registers every significant point in the lifespan of an item, from purchase through to disposal.

“Such certificates could be invaluable in quality control, for example in helping prevent the sale of fake items or in giving reassurance to buyers of second-hand material.”

More widely, smart systems such as Papertrail represent a step towards a future where every PPE item can be tracked, queried and evaluated in real time, as part of the Internet of things.

It’s an evolution we are very excited to be a part of, and hope to discuss more widely at A+A in Düsseldorf, Germany, from October 17 to 20. See you there.

  • Visit Papertrail at A+A at the DMM (Hall 6/F40) and SingingRock (Hall 6/C48) stands.

The PPE industry gets serious about safety

If there is one motto you can’t argue with, it must be ‘safety first’. Even in the most foolhardy occupations, you would have to be really mad to ignore basic safety rules.

And when it comes to any industry with an element of risk, companies are fully aware of the need for caution. The problem is that until recently many of them may not have had all the tools to cater for that need.

Take companies that rely on personal protective equipment (PPE), for example. The reason PPE exists at all is to provide users with a measure of safety, yet for it to be effective it usually must be regularly inspected and declared fit for purpose.

Carrying out these inspections is one thing, but being able to quickly and easily find out if they have been done is another. It is a problem that has plagued companies that rely on PPE, for example for working at height. But it is a problem that is increasingly in the past.

Companies such as World Challenge, DMM Professional and Offshore Painting Services are modernising their inspection records processes so they can quickly locate any record or certification from anywhere, at any time.

And a recent white paper from Papertrail predicts a continuing shift towards smart PPE management systems that help organisations improve safety while at the same time cutting costs and administration overheads.

“Users of the Papertrail smart PPE management system have reported more than a 90% reduction in administration workload, along with reduced human error and increased equipment use,” says the paper.

“Furthermore, such smart systems are expected to grow in value over time, as they increasingly evolve to receive and manage status data from future generations of connected PPE devices linked to the rise of the Internet of Things.”

The extent to which PPE record keeping is being modernised, to further increase safety while boosting efficiency, is expected to be a matter of debate in Düsseldorf, Germany, at the A+A international trade fair and congress from October 17 to 20.

The world’s largest international trade forum for safety, security and health at work, A+A’s programme will cover everything from workplace design to occupational fire protection.

In all areas, attendees will be looking for evidence of advances that can help improve the safety of their people and their customers. Thanks to advances in records management, PPE shouldn’t let them down.

Visit Papertrail at A+A at the DMM (Hall 6/F40) and SingingRock (Hall 6/C48) stands

How smart is your PPE management system?

Being smart is all the rage these days. You have smart watches, smart cars, smart TVs and even smart cities. But what about smart personal protective equipment (PPE) management systems?

According to a new white paper from Papertrail, smart PPE management is a reality now… and could be bringing benefits to your business today.

“These systems use automated remote data entry to create a permanent, one-time, cloud-based record of each PPE item, which can then be updated at any time with inspection records posted on site via a mobile device,” says the paper.

Doing this makes it easy to comply with the demands of professional bodies, meet standards for legal inspections, cut compliance administration, reduce risk for clients and workers, prevent equipment supply bottlenecks and extend the lifetime of PPE equipment.

A move towards smarter PPE management is being driven by shortfalls in current record-keeping approaches, which include spreadsheets and even paper-based files. These soak up administration time and are prone to errors.

Smart PPE management systems, on the other hand, can help cut administrative workloads by more than 90%. At the same time, the white paper notes, the volume of PPE that organisations must handle is increasing.

Research shows the global PPE market could increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.5% between 2017 and 2022.

Much of this increase is down to corporate use: at the start of 2014 more than a million businesses and 10 million workers in Britain alone were estimated to carry out jobs involving some form of work at height every year.

Finally, tougher health and safety regulations means there is more of a duty on organisations to show that PPE equipment has been maintained and checked according to relevant standards.

Moving to a smart PPE management system can allow you to create and maintain a ‘digital certificate of ownership’ that registers every significant point in the lifespan of an item, from purchase through to disposal.

Furthermore, says the white paper, such smart systems are expected to grow in value over time, as they increasingly evolve to receive and manage status data from future generations of connected PPE devices linked to the rise of the Internet of Things.

“Indeed, over time these smart PPE systems are expected to become the foundation for much broader platforms that can be used for a wide range of applications, from inventory control through to safety compliance,” it says.

The £50,000 gift a PPE manufacturer gave its customers

If you work in a large business you probably know how important it is to keep your corporate customers happy. And how difficult it can be sometimes to do something that really matters.

At least one personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturer has hit the right note, though, with an idea that makes life easier for its top clients… and at the same time saves them up to £50,000 a year.

That is roughly the value of the administration time invested every year by DMM’s biggest customers when they had to keep track of all their PPE by hand.

As a maker of premium products, DMM knew that wasn’t good enough, particularly when some of its larger customers were placing orders for more than 10,000 items a year. That’s why DMM decided to add RFID tag scanning to its products in 2014.

The DMM iD tagging scheme made it a lot easier for customers to log product data, for example for inspection purposes.

But Robert Partridge, DMM’s product manager, knew the icing on the cake would be to also provide a software system that could store all that information. This was not a task for DMM, though.

Partridge had seen other hardware manufacturers try and fail when it came to developing software to go with their products. It just wasn’t a core skill, which meant the results would be costly and possibly sub-standard. Fortunately, Partridge knew where to look for help.

At the time, DMM was sharing a business park with Papertrail. The two companies started talking, and Papertrail’s technical experts set about integrating the Papertrail platform with DMM’s back-office systems.

The upshot is that now a customer who scans a DMM product serial number can quickly and easily import the product details to their Papertrail account, at no additional cost.

Partridge estimates this could ultimately save up to 90% of the administration time involved in an inspection, and some of DMM’s customers have already halved the time they need for inspections every year.

Besides saving time and money on inspections, the customers are using their PPE for longer. Before, many would simply throw the equipment away when it was due for inspection, because it was cheaper to buy new items than to spend time on checks.

Now they are saving on new purchase costs without having an impact on health and safety standards… which is plenty of reason for customers to feel happy about choosing DMM.

  • To find out more about the DMM story, read the case study

Checking on your lone workers? What about their kit?

Looking after lone workers is a big responsibility. If you have an employee, such as a security guard or night watchman, who is on their own for long stretches of time then you need to make sure they can get help if they are in trouble.

This need has spawned a small technology industry addressing the fact that many lone workers, of which there are about 4 million in the UK alone, may not be able to able to use their mobile phones to call for help in the event of a problem.

In the UK, for example, SoloProtect supplies a device called the Identicom that provides personal safety features along with identity badge functionality for organisations such as the National Health Service.

If a health worker is in a potentially confrontational situation with no other staff around, by discretely pressing their identity card they can activate a hotline to an alarm receiving centre where an agent will record what is going on and send help if needed.

German firm LIV tec goes a step further with a gadget that will broadcast a user’s location if the bearer stops moving for a suspiciously long amount of time.

Such technologies can bring help to someone in trouble at a remote location, but they cannot prevent people from getting into trouble in the first place.

For that, you need to make sure that the equipment a worker is relying on does not cause an accident… and can be fully relied upon if it is needed.

An intruder alarm that fails to work, a fire door that will not open or a flare that will not ignite are all examples of equipment problems that can be challenging in any situation, but are potentially much worse when you have nobody around for backup.

And if you are equipping your lone workers with some form of alarm-giving device, you need to make sure the technology itself works whenever it is needed.

Thus the only way to really keep your lone workers as safe as possible is to make sure the items they may have to rely on are checked regularly, and any defects are logged in a way that is easy to see and assists with quick remediation.

Doing this is easy with a system such as Papertrail, which can help you schedule inspections at regular intervals and check that each inspection has been carried out. Don’t let your people leave without having it in place.