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.

6 ways to make your workplace safer in 2018

Think - safety first! Workplace safety in 2018

Here’s one New Year’s resolution worth saving for January: what can you do to make your workplace safer? Improving health and safety at work is never a bad idea. And you don’t need to invest much to make it happen. Here are six simple things you should be doing.

  1. Train your people

Basic training can make all the difference when an emergency strikes. Make sure health and safety training is hard-baked into your business and use a tracking platform such as Papertrail to check that people have the knowledge they need.

  1. Inspect your workplace

Loose wires, crumbling infrastructure, blocked fire escapes… it is easy to overlook potential hazards, which is why regular safety inspections are key. Keep a note of your findings, and a schedule of inspection dates, using Papertrail.

  1. Investigate incidents

Get to the bottom of the issue when things go wrong, and bear in mind you may need to present paperwork to the authorities. Store all relevant information in a way that is easy to access.

  1. Maintain records

Inspections and certificates don’t mean much if you don’t keep track of them. Implement a tracking system so you have a 360-degree view of all safety-related matters at any point in time.

  1. Have a health and safety plan in place

Every workplace has its hazards, so know yours and think about what should happen in an emergency. Write it down and make sure your people know about the plan.

  1. Check your equipment

If your workers require personal protective equipment (PPE) then it is vital their kit is checked for safety and reliability. Many PPE manufacturers now make it easy to track inspections via industry-standard platforms such as Papertrail.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your workplace 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

Floating wind: let’s not let safety sink

Last month was a momentous one for those of us who work alongside the renewables industry. The world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the grid.

Located about 25 kilometres off the coast of Peterhead in Scotland, the Hywind Scotland project is not particularly far from shore. But floating turbine designers aim to go much, much further.

The whole point about floating foundations is they can be towed out to places where the water is too deep for existing bottom-attached structures. That extra distance means far more energy can now be harvested from the wind above the waves.

But it also means construction and operations teams must travel further to get on site, and there is greater distance to travel in the event of an incident.

So while the advent of floating offshore wind is great news for the industry, it also means project owners will need to revisit safety protocols and procedures.

As part of this, it will be vital to make sure all personal protective equipment (PPE) is properly maintained and checked.

Many offshore wind operators are already switching from manual inspection tracking methods to smart PPE management systems such as Papertrail.

It’s a move that not only improves safety, but also boosts efficiency and reduces costs, both of which are important considerations in the ongoing struggle to cut the levelised cost of energy for offshore wind.

Recent developments might mean it is a good idea to float the idea at your company, too.

Find out how one offshore wind contractor is maintaining an unblemished safety record with help from Papertrail.

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.

Do you know what PPE management really is?

If you’re heading to the A+A international trade fair and congress then it’s a fair bet you already know what personal protective equipment (PPE) is. But are you on top of PPE management?

While PPE is all about equipping your people with things that will keep them safe, PPE management is about knowing those things are up to the task: that they are not out of date, have passed all relevant inspections and so on.

It is important because in PPE the status of an item can be just as important as its availability. A harness that is not in its legal inspection date, for example, is no more use than no harness at all.

For all its importance, though, PPE management is still often relegated to the status of an administrative chore. And in fairness, managing PPE with manual methods such as spreadsheets can be a pain. But there is no need for it.

With systems such as Papertrail, you can make sure PPE management is simple, standardised and robust. If you want to know more, then why not start with the following online resources:

And if you are still hungry for information then book a demo or look us up 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.

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.

Why your lawyer might want you to get Papertrail

There are plenty of people in your organisation who might appreciate you introducing an inspection, certification and audit management platform such as Papertrail.

Your health and safety manager, for instance, would be happy to have a system that makes it easier to log fire certificate and equipment inspection records. Your quality control chief will be pleased to get a simpler way of tracking audit data.

But what you might not realise is that your legal department could thank you, too. How come? After all, lawyers don’t normally spend their time dealing with inspections or managing certifications.

What they are concerned about, though, is evidence that could be permissible in court. And that’s where a system such as Papertrail has important advantages over traditional, manual audit tracking methods, often based on Excel spreadsheets or the like. Here’s why.

Let’s say you suffer a workplace accident. There’s an issue of responsibility. Was your equipment up to scratch? Had you been following the rulebook in terms of inspections and legal compliance?

If the case goes to court then it’s vital you have valid data to prove you’ve been meeting your obligations. Maybe you’ve got an Excel spreadsheet to show when your most recent inspections were carried out.

It looks impressive, but it might not carry much weight in court. The reason is that entries in Excel (or most other digital office files, for that matter) are not time-stamped, so it’s harder to prove you did not go back and fill them in after the event.

That’s hardly surprising: Excel and its brethren were not created with safety records compliance in mind.

That’s why you need a bespoke package such as Papertrail or iAuditor, where every entry is automatically time-stamped and cannot be tampered with, offering clear and legally solid proof that the data is genuine.

You could, of course, argue that this issue is a minor detail and probably not one worth worrying about. But think again. If you do get embroiled in a courtroom scenario like the one outlined above, it could quite possibly have an impact on your operations.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be suspended from doing further work until your organisation has been cleared of responsibility.

If that’s the case, then it won’t just be your lawyer who will be glad you can pull up a full inspection, certification and audit history on Papertrail. Your financial director will thank you, too.

How to be your health and safety inspector’s best friend

tree-surgery

We’ve all seen the image of the person sawing off the branch they are sitting on.

And if you do an Internet search for ‘health and safety nightmares’ then you’ll find plenty of examples of madcap activities that seem to defy common sense… and certainly wouldn’t go down well with a health and safety (H&S) inspector.

There’s the construction plant operators playing football with diggers, for example. Or the worker using a colleague’s back as a bench for a circular saw. It’s easy to dismiss such far-out incidents as having little bearing on your own, safety-conscious operations.

On the flip side, it’s also easy to see H&S inspections as a chore, to be avoided at all costs. And there’s no doubt that passing an inspection can be a harrowing process, particularly since inspectors in most jurisdictions could potentially shut down your business.

The problem with this mentality is that a disdain for inspections may lead to a disdain for health and safety itself. And that could have serious consequences for your organisation.

Far better, then, to take the opposite view… and think about how you could become an inspector’s best friend by making their visit quick and painless.

The first and most obvious step in this process is obviously to make safety a priority and check for any potential hazards that need to be addressed.

Having a workplace that is visibly free of hazards probably goes about 95% of the way towards dispelling any concerns your inspector might have. But you may still need to deal with the lingering doubt that you’ve simply tidied everything up the day before the visit.

For this, you need to have documentation that proves your long-term commitment to safety.

As a retired warehouse inspector remembers: “I would always ask to see evidence of the most recent racking inspection, just to see when they last had their system independently checked in addition to the internal safety checks I would expect them to carry out.”

Having this information to hand is important, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that the way you present it can matter, too. A mass of crumpled inspection reports, dug out from a musty drawer, is hardly going to instill confidence in your safety regime.

On the other hand, being able to access reports online, in a way that is easy to scan and analyse, will go a long way towards showing safety isn’t something you just polish up for an inspector’s visit.