Using digital tools for managing safe work processes enables safety leaders and supervisors to manage risks more efficiently. Companies can enforce standardization and ensure safety across the organization or site locations. And there are other benefits. Besides increasing safety, digitalization serves to improve processes, which in turn can help reduce downtime. Boosting efficiency and productivity are two excellent reasons to employ digital tools and solutions.
Here are five key ways that digitalization drives efficiency and productivity gains:
1. Streamlined Processes
Without technology, companies typically rely on paper-based or semi-manual systems. Take the permit to work process, for instance. Without a clear digital process at different locations or processes, operators manage permits on paper. This wastes a lot of time and effort when these have to be re-done. Lack of digital systems also hinders the visibility of operations such as status of pump isolations. Workers tend to spend a lot of time waiting for their physical papers. This eats away at their efficiency and productivity.
Digital tools can combine information from permits, risk assessments and isolations. Permitting processes can be synchronized with work order systems, and permit requests can be generated automatically when the work is scheduled to start. Leveraging sequential operations can allow operators to ensure that a pump is isolated before maintenance crews arrive, for example.
Efficiency and productivity benefits arise across virtually all safe work processes, including:
- Management of change (MOC). Major process or equipment changes have significant impacts and safety implications. With digital tools, MOC information is readily accessible to everyone across the site.
- Job safety analysis (JSA) or formal risk assessment (FRA). Using JSA templates and an FRA matrix reduces the effort of assessing hazards, rating risks and recommending preventative measures. Databases of hazards and controls are available to help plan the job safely and serve as a knowledge base.
- Deviations. When a critical piece of safety equipment such as a fire detector is not operating correctly, supervisors can communicate necessary corrective activities at once.
- Emergency planning and responses. If something goes wrong, crews must mitigate quickly. Digitalizing plans speeds response efforts and makes them more efficient.
- Major accident hazard management. A digital solution enables companies to connect the status of process safety-critical equipment (SECE) sensor data, planned maintenance and inspection data, among others, so supervisors can understand the big picture faster.
2. Reduced Effort
Compared to paper-based systems, digitalization enables safety leaders, supervisors and crews to more easily share information. Reduced paper handling when verifying design specifications and hazard assessments accelerates the pre-startup safety review, for example.
With a digital solution, supervisors can also template permits, adapt and utilize these in other facilities. They can make sure the right job is being done in the right place at the right time. Companies can ensure data accuracy across all departments or permits. All users can find information and updates easily with automatic search functions. Crews can get more done in less time.
3. Time Saved
Handling papers is time-consuming. When processes are complete, crews or supervisors handle a stack of permits, typically putting papers one by one into filing cabinets. They also may need to sort and archive permits for visits by government regulators or health and safety inspectors.
Digitalization enables virtually paperless workflows. Digital documents can be viewed or signed anywhere. No more walking from one end of the facility to the other to get approvals on permits. Administrative handling tasks such as stacking and sorting disappear, and copying, filing, searching and storing are all reduced to a few touchpad strokes. In addition to reducing the administrative load required for paperwork management, digitalization saves time that can then be used for effective job walks and risk assessments and documents can be updated on the go.
4. Simplified Reporting
Manually gathering figures, calculating results and formatting reports with standalone spreadsheets takes time and takes up company resources.
In a digital solution, data is already in the system. In this way, information-transfer errors and inaccuracies can be reduced. Reports can be generated automatically or at least semi-automatically. Dashboards can be displayed to management in real time. Companies can document compliance faster to satisfy the requirements of regulators or stakeholders.
5. Reduced Downtime
Going from paper to digital enables operators to gain visibility and improve the economy of all processes. For example, during a typical shutdown, between 200 and 500 permits are needed on average. Each of these permit tasks needs to be planned out. Even taking five minutes manually for each permit adds up—easily amounting to 20 to 40 hours, a full week’s worth of work. This can be reduced by using digital templates that can be quickly adapted to the different jobs if required. Digitalized shift handover helps ensure that important items are communicated to oncoming shifts. In addition, this provides a record in case of an incident.
Through digitalization, operators and crews have more information at their fingertips, along with digital tools and resources. These can be leveraged to reduce or eliminate repetitive work, as well as to predict things that could go wrong. In a shutdown, operators can redirect resources early in the isolation and cut permit-creation time. Potential conflicts become apparent before they arise, such as when an isolation will not be done in time to get the scaffold built or to work on the tank.
Developing Integrated Systems for Even Greater Gains
Through technology, workers become more efficient and can get more done, so performance goes up. And that makes companies more productive overall, yielding higher output, benefits or profits. The question remains: Can companies make significant process improvements without digitalization?
In past decades, industries have witnessed enormous change and advances in process safety management (PSM) and safe work management. Initial ad hoc permitting gave way to paper-based processes, which developed into electronic permit to work (PTW) systems. Now, connected PTW systems that are linked to other site systems such as workforce management are emerging.
The next step is a safe work system that is fully integrated with other core systems and that makes use of common metadata and real-time visualization. Safety leaders could manage the workforce, check training records and perform control of work and barrier management, among other processes, all in one solution. Such digital integration leads to continuing process improvement and reduces risk while driving gains in safety, efficiency and productivity.