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

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.

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.

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.

Theme park safety: increasing the fairground attraction

The tragic death of 11-year-old Evha Jannath on Drayton Manor’s Splash Canyon ride in May was naturally a terrible blow to all who knew her. It was also a shock to the UK’s theme park sector, which has worked hard to maintain an almost impeccable safety record.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the BBC, Jannath’s was the first theme park fatality in the UK since 2004. Based on a 2009 admissions figure of 13.8 million visitors a year, that equals less than a one in 179 million chance of dying during a theme park visit.

To put that figure in context, the chances of winning the jackpot in the UK National Lottery are around one in 14 million. In other words, you are more than 100 times more likely to win the National Lottery jackpot than you are to lose your life in a theme park.

Is that good enough? Of course not. Visitor attractions must strive for an accident rate of zero, forever, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Accidents are also terribly bad for business.

The Splash Canyon tragedy, for example, led Drayton Manor to close altogether for a day, as well as shutting the water ride for the duration of the investigation that followed. At least one other operator, Alton Towers, closed a similar ride as a precaution.

On top of the loss of revenue that this may have represented, operators face heavy investigation costs and the potential for hefty fines if any wrongdoing is uncovered. And then there’s the massive reputational damage that accompanies an accident.

Despite this, and for all the safety precautions that theme park operators already take, it is unrealistic to expect that accidents will never ever happen. When they do, the best an operator can hope for is to show they had done everything in their hand to avoid it.

This means showing evidence of regular equipment inspections, demonstrating staff had the right training and certifications, and generally being able to prove that every health and safety requirement was being adhered to.

Dealing with all this paperwork is a hefty task, but there are now tools that will allow any theme park operator to do the job quickly and easily. It’s a small investment in exchange for helping to make sure no further theme park deaths are reported for a long, long time.

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.

Britain’s going green. Let’s make sure it does so safely.

We live in exciting times for the energy industry. A shift to clean power is taking hold around the world. And one of the best examples in recent months has been the UK.

The country that spawned the industrial revolution, and with it a growing global appetite for coal, has moved into renewables in a big way. In April, the UK went without coal for an entire day, for the first time since around 1882.

This was after coal’s contribution to the UK energy system dropped to just 9% in 2016, compared to 23% in 2015. By 2025, coal is expected to have been phased out of the system altogether.

And this month the National Grid reported that renewable energy (meaning wind, solar, hydro and biomass) had for the first time in the modern era provided more than half of UK electricity supplies.

“For the first time ever this lunchtime wind, nuclear and solar were all generating more than both gas and coal combined,” National Grid said.

For anyone who is concerned about man-made climate change, this is great news. And the inexorable rise of renewables is good for jobs, too.

Not only do clean-energy industries create high-value employment, but the work is safe: wind engineers are more than 660 times less likely to suffer a fatal accident than people working in the coal industry, for example.

Most of this difference comes from the hazardous nature of coal mining, though. Let’s not kid ourselves: working on a turbine nacelle at 80 metres above ground is hardly a cakewalk. One slip could be fatal.

And the risks are even higher in the offshore wind farms that industry attention is shifting to. To maintain its well-earned reputation for safety, the renewables sector must work harder than ever to make sure things don’t go wrong.

That means checking, double-checking and triple-checking equipment. Making sure everyone is trained up to the highest standard. Confirming all components have the right certifications and quality stamps. And keeping records of the whole lot.

As the need to focus on workplace safety gets ever more key, storing records on Excel spreadsheets or bits of paper is no longer really an option.

If an engineer needs to confirm that a harness has passed its latest safety check, and they are in a ship in the North Sea, having a record back in the office just won’t cut it. Thankfully, there are smarter ways to do things now. The industry just needs to adopt them, fast.

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

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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.

New mobile applications available for download NOW!

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This is a significant week for the team at Papertrail, launching the new and improved mobile applications, starting with iOS, the most popular mobile operating system used by the Papertrail community. The roll out of the improved android application will follow over the coming days.

You can download the apps from…
the iOS App Store
the Android Play Store

What’s new?

  • The Papertrail mobile applications provide users with the ability to update inspections offline, take photos and report faults. Current improved functionality includes:
    Improved sync performance – allowing access to real time data is important. No longer do you need to remember to press the sync button, providing there is internet access inspections are uploaded providing real time collaboration.
  • View images and PDF (uploads) – for many businesses it’s important that everyone has access to the right documentation and information where ever they are. Any record upload, such as PDF documents or inspection instructions are now all available to view from within the mobile application.
  • Scanning – not necessarily a new feature, but increasingly we are seeing more businesses use barcodes and RFID to close the loop on potential human error, and ensure teams are updating the correct record for the specific piece of equipment. A wide variety of barcodes including the Petzl data matrix can now be scanned.

What about the future….

We are constantly developing new and enhanced functionally for the mobile app, from push notifications to the ability to edit and add new records to the management system. The first feature to be launched will be an integration with Papertrail manufacturer partners for adding new records straight into the Papertrail account from either the DMM or Singing Rock mobile application.

Further partners are to be announced soon, to provide similar functionality.

Remember to sync your device before downloading the new mobile app, the Papertrail support team are always at hand should you require assistance.

Feature Summary

  • Data syncs automatically when the app is active and there is an internet connection.
  • View the full history (activities) on a record (with an internet connection).
  • Add multiple inspections at once, but with an inspection form per record being inspected.
  • Add/edit record name, inspection dates, frequency, comments and all fields (serial, manufacturer etc…)
  • View photos/PDF’s from the app (with an internet connection)