The relationship between safety & automation

One of the most significant advantages of using electrical control systems in your production facilities is the safety enhancements it can bring.

When everything works as it should, automation can help you streamline and optimise your production processes, improve product quality, minimise downtime and keep health and safety incidents to a minimum.

However, if automation fails because of incorrect setup or use, it can have severe implications from loss of production or damage to equipment to regulatory breaches or injury to staff. These can have a considerable financial and reputational impact on your business or brand.

Keeping a production process operating smoothly, efficiently and – crucially – safely relies on a combination of automation and people.

It’s not enough to invest in electrical control or safety systems and simply let them run with little or no human interaction. Monitoring their performance – either manually or using data – is the key to identifying and addressing potential issues before they become significant problems. Creating and applying proper safety standards and procedures is essential.

It’s easy to allow your automated systems to be relatively static and leave them alone, especially when they are functioning acceptably and causing no major problems. However, even the best systems, technologies and components deteriorate over time.

A few instruments can drift out of spec, or key people with specialist skills and expertise leave and suddenly, the relationship between automation and safety is compromised. While production continues, without the proper checks and balances in place – and sufficiently skilled staff to carry them out – a small problem could lead to a catastrophic failure, with all the implications that entails.

Can your business afford to take that risk?

Process control is essential

An effective electrical control system is your first line of defence for health safety in your production facility. The right controls will help keep your processes on an even keel to prevent problems and react in the right way should they occur.

However, if your electrical control system isn’t as effective as it should be due to lack of attention or maintenance, and the people operating it don’t have the right knowledge and skills, it can have a big impact on the overall safety of the process. While automated solutions can help prevent potential safety breaches and breakdowns, relying on them every time is a risk.

These systems should always be the last line of defence. While it’s good to know that they will protect your people and your facilities in the event of an incident, prevention is always better than cure. So, the key question to ask yourself is, is your facility safe enough? Some of the things to consider here include:

  • Have you identified all the potential hazards or safety risks that could develop within the process?
  • What are the tolerable and intolerable risks?
  • Does your electrical control system control the facility safely?
  • Does your electrical control system keep the facility safe and stable when running automatically?
  • Are the process’ individual safety components able to protect the process from intolerable risks when needed?
  • Are there any relevant industry guidelines or regulations your process needs to comply with?
  • Do all the elements of your facility’s electrical controls, safety systems, and people work together effectively to ensure safe operation?

How to improve production safety

If you’re looking to improve the safety of your production processes, then electrical control systems can play a crucial role in keeping your people and facilities safe. Understanding your safety risks and what you need to do about them is a vital first step.

It’s essential to carry out regular safety audits to look not only at the causes of safety incidents that have occurred, but also the ones that could have created breaches (i.e., the near misses). Each incident should be analysed in detail to identify and address the cause.

If it’s related to poorly configured equipment or an automated operation error or instruction, these need to be fixed. If it relates to human error, training should be given, and your policies should be reviewed to ensure it doesn’t happen again. When it comes to improving the safety of your production facility, it only takes one element to cause a significant and catastrophic failure. So, production facility operators need to evaluate their operations continuously, to improve production or solve problems.

That’s where Banelec can help.

Our complete understanding of hazardous area manufacturing and engineering processes, combined with a market-leading portfolio of products and solutions, will help you reduce potential safety risks. By applying innovative electrical control systems and components, we can also improve the performance of your key production equipment to make your operations safer.

To find out more about how we can help, get in touch today.