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Keeping industry workers safe in the digital age

The health and safety of industrial workers is often in the media spotlight, for both human and economic reasons. When you look at the statistics that lie behind the headlines, they make quite sobering reading.

According to the International Labour Organization, 2.78 million workers die every year from occupational accidents and work-related diseases and another 374 million workers suffer non-fatal accidents. The human stories behind these figures are obviously harrowing for the individuals and families. Beyond that, it’s estimated that work days lost globally also represent almost 4 percent of the world’s GDP.

Something significant obviously can be improved. So, what are the most vulnerable working environments out there? They include busy industrial spaces such as ports, airports, mines, oil and gas fields, processing plants, power utilities, construction sites, manufacturing floors, warehouses and logistics hubs. Within these environments, proximity to heavy machinery and moving vehicles, working at height and in extreme environmental conditions such as noise, heat or wind, and exposure to dangerous substances and gasses are some of the most unsafe situations in which workers can find themselves.

The safety helmets and the yellow and orange fluorescent jackets we often see in these environments are obviously vital − but they’re really just the start of what’s needed. In fact, enterprises nowadays have access to an exciting and fast evolving set of innovations around what’s known as ‘situational awareness’. A concept that can most simply be described as ‘knowing what is going on around your workforce’.

The ultimate objective is having 360° visibility of people, assets, infrastructure and environmental conditions. Because what you don’t see, you can’t manage. That’s why gaining a complete picture is essential for delivering on the Industry 4.0 promise. Not only for saving lives, but also for preventing productivity losses and increasing operational efficiency. This can be achieved through location tracking systems, wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, video cameras, drones and real-time data analytics. These technologies combined are able to deliver (remote) operations centers with an all-round, real-time view of asset health and worker safety.

However, the vast majority of these technologies depend on wireless connectivity. A critical detail that’s easily overlooked is that current wireless networks like Wi-Fi and WiMAX aren’t really fit for frequently changing environments that need permanent, pervasive and predictable network coverage. They were engineered for basic work-day tasks such as sending emails, not for monitoring and automating industrial operations. As a result, they don’t provide the necessary coverage, reliability, mobility, precision or service prioritization. Neither were TETRA and P25-based professional mobile radio networks built for broadband data services or video communications.

People’s health and safety are simply too precious to be compromised by a lack of network features, connectivity interruptions or communication hiccups. CCTV cameras and drones crave true mobile broadband with sufficient capacity. Remote operated vehicles and machinery require low-latency. Geo-positioning services need more precise coordinates than GPS. Critical person-to-person communication depends on reliable two-way voice and video. And emerging IoT and analytics applications need to support massive numbers of wearable and non-wearable devices and sensors, while dealing with huge volumes of data. Delivering all these essential capabilities is really only available with today’s 4.9G/LTE and tomorrow’s 5G cellular industrial wireless networks.

The great news is that Nokia has it all covered. Our private wireless solutions offer a single, robust, end-to-end infrastructure that can support different verticals. Being a pioneer in the private wireless space, our industrial wireless solutions are already deployed with more than 130 large enterprise customers in transportation, utilities, mining and oil and gas, public sector and smart cities, manufacturing and logistics, and other industry sectors.

Take a look at some of the workforce safety use cases that we enable:

  • Reducing the risk of personal accidents through low-manned, unmanned and remote operations. Keeping people and heavy machinery apart is a good way to prevent incidents, but remote and autonomous operations require operation-critical data communication. One example is Oil and Gas operators who need reliable connectivity for exchanging data and connecting people and things between fixed offshore facilities and surrounding/moving rigs and vessels.
  • Delivering 24x7 surveillance in remote or dangerous areas and alerting operators to anomalous behavior. Analytics on video streams coming from fixed CCTV cameras or mobile devices mounted on vehicles and drones allow operators to identify abnormal situations and take action in a timely manner. This kind of surveillance is typically relevant for power stations, pipelines, stockpiles, parking lots and container terminals.
  • Rapidly identifying and mitigating potential hazards by deploying IoT sensors and devices. They provide remote operators with real-time and predictive insights into environmental, geological or meteorological conditions, and industrial processes. Sensors may be deployed for monitoring power lines, chemical installations, mine corridors, dams and tailing ponds, as well as on many other high-risk industrial sites.
  • Monitoring environmental parameters, worker biometrics and man-down situations and warning workers of hazards. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) can reduce or eliminate exposure to dangerous conditions and prevent injuries. Smart headbands can help manage the risk of driver fatigue in mining trucks, while airport tarmac personnel can wear on-body noise level sensors.
  • Tracking, mustering and restricting people, assets and vehicles moving indoors and outdoors, above and underground. Think, for instance, about using high-accuracy geo-location services for tracing people and assets in ports, logistics hubs and huge warehouses, optimizing AVG routing, or preventing miners from entering no-go zones.
  • Supporting field workers in peril with mission-critical push-to-talk (PTT) and push-to-video (PTV) communications. These services enable fast call establishement and enable sharing of live video feeds through ruggedized and ATEX compliant handsets and tablets. A single button-push can save the life of staff who have become trapped or confined in an area they can’t get out. PTT/PTV is also an effective way to instantly alert other personnel in case of a fire or chemical spills .

While the Nokia 4.9/5G network provides the critical communication capabilities that make all this possible, our Integrated Operations Center acts as a ‘system of systems’. It collects, filters and analyzes data, generates alerts, translates events into actions, and displays relevant information on a remote operator’s dashboard.

Want to know more about some of these uses cases? Have a look at our interactive Private Wireless experience, where you can explore how Nokia Industrial-grade Private Wireless will benefit ports, airports, mines, utilities and factories. While staying safe behind your PC, laptop or smartphone screen.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia or @nokiaindustries using #Industry40 #privatewireless

Marc Jadoul

About Marc Jadoul

Marc Jadoul is Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia. A computer scientist by education, and technology evangelist, storyteller, speaker, and blogger by vocation.

Author/co-author of 200+ papers, magazine articles and conference presentations, and a frequent speaker and panelist at industry events, Marc is an advocate of Albert Einstein’s dictum “if you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Tweet me at @mjadoul

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