The future is now for safety

AS INDUSTRIES across the energy network including utilities and manufacturers are considered some of the most dangerous work environments, both in Australia and the world, Schneider Electric software marketing manager Alison Koh writes how technology advancements are helping improve safety in the energy sector for Energy News.
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In 2015 the mining and manufacturing industries ranked fourth and fifth respectively in terms of the highest workplace fatality rates across Australia.

Inexperienced or poorly trained operators can be particularly risky considering the dangerous sectors they work in. With higher demands for increased productivity and more comprehensive safety commitments, Australian industries are finding themselves in a conundrum.

Fortunately, improvements and advancements in technology are able to provide a solution to a large portion of the problem. Dynamic Operator Training Simulation (OTS) is one of the innovative approaches being used to address this issue. The technology brings all the benefits of hands-on training, without the danger.

OTS technologies allow users to interact with virtual content interacting with potentially dangerous equipment. It offers a dynamic and immersive method of training which can be conducted in a safe and secure environment.

For the energy and utilities industries some of the real benefits of OTS lie in improvements to safety and efficiency standards. Industry organisations are taking inspiration from the likes of aviation flight simulators and healthcare surgery research to tackle the challenges of industry workplace skills.

Based on the specific training plan developed by the instructor, simulation training provides a number of methods to rapidly train operators. In this, it can help trainees improve understanding of general plant theory and concepts as well as demonstrate recovery from various operational upsets and malfunctions, improving overall safety standards and understanding within an organisation.

It can also increase knowledge of plant systems and their function on top of giving trainees further operating experience, confidence and accuracy in normal and abnormal utilities operations, all within a controlled, secure setting.

Plant management has also found that a relatively small investment in OTS can save hundreds of thousands of dollars with paybacks measured in weeks or months.

A simple example of the immediate value of OTS training is to simulate a fire hazard event in a refinery and demonstrate how to address the issue.

The operator will gain the knowledge and confidence in the training with no risk to operations and people. There are also more simple returns for operational efficiency in ensuring rapid identification of the critical equipment - just knowing where a pump is, for example, means faster response and greater productivity.

The primary objective of OTS in the utilities and energy industry is to provide plant-specific high-fidelity simulators for initial training and retraining of control room operators, operating supervisors and other plant equipment operators.

Simulator controls can be an exact duplicate of the actual plant controls, meaning offsite training is as effective as the real thing but without the hassle and danger of visiting an actual site.

For example, operational staff can be comprehensively trained in tasks ranging from procedures for plant start-up and shut down situations, to fault diagnosis and handling of utility system and process unit trips, all within the remit and safety of an OTS.

Recognising that a huge number of different scenarios present dangerous threats across the industry, OTS assists organisations in conducting a vast array of training services.

For example, Schneider Electric's SimSci software has over 700 simulators in the chemical, oil and gas, power and mining industries, meaning those being trained are equipped for all scenarios before working on-site.

Where training once would have taken place on-site surrounded by heavy machinery, this new technology allows students and apprentices to learn in a controlled and benign setting.

Because of the digital nature of the learning experience, students and apprentices are often more engaged and acquire skills more rapidly as well.

Reduced travel time and better group training is also made possible by OTS, all adding to the improved operational efficiency of a business.

Balancing safety with increased demands on productivity is no easy feat. But taking advantage of new technologies, such as OTS, can increase efficiencies and reliability, especially in the training process.

The technologies may seem futuristic, but the benefits are being felt in the Australian industrial sector right now.