Welcome to the fourth article in our series on the benefits of intrinsic safety technology. We’ve already explored how to manage the complexities of multi-designation sites. This time, we’re looking at why intrinsic safety education is such a critical part of industrial safety and the success of your risk prevention and safety systems.
It’s common in many industrial facilities to focus on short-term cost-cutting and time-saving methods. This can create a culture of “cutting corners” and a lack of understanding surrounding the importance of health and safety rules and regulations. In reality, however, it’s more cost-effective to optimize your safety protocols and ensure your teams are well educated to help prevent incidents and protect your employees and assets now and for many years to come.
The Importance of Hazardous Area Control
All industrial settings have potential hazards and hazardous areas, and incidents can occur for many reasons. A major food and beverage facility in Memphis suffered fire damage in July 2021 after a broken conveyor belt caused nearby combustible material from a dryer to go up in flames. It took over five hours to get the fire under control. In February 2022, a portable boiler caused a huge explosion at an Oregon potato chip plant, and since then, the company has made the tough decision to lay off all its employees. In many cases, incidents like these can be avoided by making teams aware of hazardous areas and their protocols. Intrinsic safety training, for example, teaches employees why they should only use specific devices in certain areas, a topic we’ll explore in more detail below.
How Lack of Education Compounds Safety Issues
When team members don’t understand why they’re doing something, they may stop doing it or start cutting corners. For example, if a particular safety door has numerous bolts as part of a containment design, then all those bolts should be engaged every time. Team members who have become complacent may only engage a few bolts or none at all. If the safety door is in a high-traffic area, this could become a point of contention with staff members unwilling to take the extra five minutes on every journey through this area to shut the door properly.
It’s easy to see how these attitudes are fostered. Productivity is a critical consideration in industrial facilities, and even with the advent of industrial automation, employees need to complete many tasks quickly and accurately. Without proper safety education, team members may fail to close safety doors, fill out the correct forms, or use the exact piece of equipment needed, sacrificing safety in the name of efficiency. Difficult-to-access locations are typically designed like this for a reason, and when team members understand that reason, they’re more likely to respect and follow the rules.
Industrial organizations need to ensure their intrinsic safety education involves finding a way to prioritize health and safety even in situations where productivity is vital. This may include videos of what could happen if safety protocols and procedures are ignored, computer-based training to assess understanding, or even ongoing courses that only allow individuals to access certain equipment or areas once they’ve proven their understanding. All intrinsic safety training should be refreshed regularly to remain aligned with the most current compliance regulations.
Team Education and Intrinsic Safety
Intrinsically safe systems are designed by electrical engineers so that every piece of the system, right down to the wiring and switches, complies with the necessary safety protocols. However, not all equipment utilized by employees is stationary, and these mobile devices can require the most team education. Smartphones, tablets, and even monitoring tools all need some electrical charge to work. Intrinsically safe devices are designed so that they do not go above a certain temperature, and the electrical energy they produce does not exceed the approved threshold. It also considers and mitigates the potential of some devices to create static electricity. This removes the risk of igniting gases, powders, or other hazardous materials and renders the devices incapable of triggering an explosion.
It is important to note that intrinsically safe mobile devices may be approved for use in Division 1 or Division 2 sites. A team member who moves into a Division 1 site with their Division 2-approved tablet could inadvertently cause disaster if that device generates a spark strong enough to trigger an explosion.
Industrial facilities need to ensure that every individual has the proper intrinsic safety education so that they only use devices approved for their work areas. They also need to make sure hazardous areas are clearly marked so that educated team members aren’t misled by poor signage into entering an area without taking the proper precautions.
If you’d like more information on intrinsic safety or related topics, contact ICA Engineering for more details. In our next and final article in this series, we’ll look at some real-life industrial incidents in which intrinsic safety could have made a crucial difference.
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