Data Analytics and Gas Monitoring: Breaking Down Big Data to Identify & Mitigate Health & Safety Risks

Igor Avlijas, P.Eng, Contributor

As most personnel return to the workplace full-time, industrial hygienists face the growing and continued challenge of mitigating gas and other hazardous exposures that result in both acute and long-term health effects.

Whether it’s in oil & gas, construction, manufacturing or other industries, the threat of harmful substances, such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, are constantly present across worksites. While it’s widely known that these gases and chemicals pose a clear threat to workers’ physical health, they can also have a negative effect on mental health.

Unfortunately, gas exposures are a common occurrence across industrial worksites, and these numbers are on the rise. Exposure to harmful substances led to the deaths of 642 workers in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number represents the highest figure since the series began in 2011—and a 51% increase from 2015.

This trend heightens the need to eliminate the potential of severe exposure as all employees return to the workplace. Additionally, the threat of exposure to lower level gases is just as critical, but often overlooked, due to lack of data and the high cost of traditional gas-monitoring systems. Without proper mitigation, workers face a larger risk of compound exposures over their careers that lead to the possibility of health complications years or decades later.

Industrial hygienists, whether based on-site or centralized at regional or HQ offices, are constantly fighting the battle of ensuring health and safety as companies aim to become more efficient, productive and profitable. Those challenges only grow if a centralized safety or industrial hygiene team is tasked with managing the health and wellbeing of workers across state lines.

In this scenario, lack of visibility and fact-based insight into every worker’s exposure levels and at-risk behavior is a real challenge. That’s where technology, big data and worksite digitization can empower industrial hygiene teams with greater line of sight that ultimately helps them protect workers locally and remotely.

The leading safety monitoring devices and wearables produce thousands of data points every day, including when, where and how often exposures to a variety of gases occurred. If the oceans of raw data are properly broken down by experts, this insight can be captured and leveraged to implement immediate improvements and preventative measures that minimize exposure, protecting the short- and long-term health of workforces.

The following capabilities outline how incorporating big data can help amplify the meaningful work industrial hygienists are conducting to ensure health and safety.

Prioritizing Risk Through Greater Front-Line Visibility

Big data analytics identify thousands of risk factors logged by a digitized worksite and safety devices and deliver complete line-of-sight across many aspects of workforce behavior and activity. Through GPS-enabled gas monitoring, it also helps identify the dangers that are active or just starting to occur, such as a gas leak or the continued presence of low gas levels.

Equipped with a comprehensive view of worksite risks, industrial hygienists can efficiently prioritize health concerns and initiatives enterprise-wide, addressing each and monitoring the impact over time.

Shortening the Decision-Making Cycle Through Actionable Insights

Everybody knows the power of data. However, data collection alone is just the first step on the way to addressing the threats. Safety-centric data science, artificial intelligence and powerful cloud computing are opening big opportunities in driving the end result—actions and decisions based on the insights extracted from the collected data.

Through a digital worksite, the visibility delivered to industrial hygienists is available in real-time via the Cloud—allowing accessible, centralized and robust monitoring across all worksites at once. With actionable insights at their fingertips, industrial hygiene teams can quickly identify an emerging danger—such as a new underground leak where carcinogen exposure is a threat—and immediately take the appropriate action to address the situation, from initiating an investigation to clearing the area.

Monitoring Progress Against Health & Safety Key Performance Indicators

Worksite data captured via wearables and other technology remains available in perpetuity. This ensures that industrial hygienists can view insights, such as exposure levels, from a certain historical period against baselines and targets, tracking the effectiveness of initiatives to determine if additional enhancements should be considered.

Incorporating Predictive Safety & Preventative Measures

At times, industrial hygienists can spend their days putting out fires reactively. Big data analytics allows IH professionals to take a proactive and preventative approach to worker health through predictive safety. Through big data, teams are served timely triaged early risk indicators that support the team to anticipate probable future issues, allowing a shift from reactive to proactive work processes.

Big data derived from connected safety technology offers the opportunity to take the next step when it comes to ensuring health and safety of the industrial workforce.

It serves as a tool that provides greater visibility and a comprehensive picture of a worksite, delivering timely actionable insights that allow teams to gain a stronger sense of the risks and prioritize improvements to mitigate them.

The result is greater availability of relevant information to inform decision-making and provide peace of mind that the workers are safe in the present, as well as for years and decades to come. IHW

About the Author:

Igor Avlijas, P.Eng., is Leader of the Digital Worksite Program at Blackline Safety.

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