Wear Safety on your Sleeve with Scan-Link
The Passive RFID (radio frequency identification) Armour Safety System from Scan-Link Technologies, Burlington, Ontario, not only aims to help equipment operators detect nearby ground workers, but the system can also be used to identify recurring events and help companies get to the bottom of these potentially hazardous behaviors.
Scan-Link President Jonathan Fava shared the story of one customer who noticed one employee in particular was causing a lot of alerts while wearing the RFID tags of the system. Management spoke with the individual to ask why he frequently found himself so close to various machines. The employee explained that, as the flagger, he often got up on the float to help load the machine. Only after recognizing this behavior were they able to get to the bottom of it and equip that employee with a safer way to perform his job and update its safety protocols and training procedures.
“It’s not enough just to learn how accidents have happened,” Fava said. “The next step is to analyze data in order to prevent them from happening.”
Scan-Link’s Passive RFID Armour Safety System is designed for rugged environments ranging from construction and quarrying to forestry, oil and gas, and waste management, and partners include Caterpillar and the Texas Department of Transportation, to name a few.
TxDOT Supervisor David Saucedo first introduced Scan-Link for the east Bexar County maintenance section and was quickly able to see opportunities to minimize risk. For example, Saucedo said the technology helped them realize detections increase after lunch during the hottest part of the day as workers become more fatigued and sometimes complacent.
“Scan-Link has helped us make great changes in the way we train employees,” Saucedo said. “It is a great tool that is now used to help coach employees and help change habits to keep the safest work environment possible.”
How it Works
The system is designed to reduce the probability of a struck-by accident by monitoring employees wearing Passive RFID-equipped personal protective equipment (PPE) and alerting equipment operators when these employees find themselves located in the “danger zone” behind a piece of equipment. The goal is to increase the probability that tagged personnel working in close proximity to mobile equipment will be detected, operators can exercise extra caution, and ultimately to correct unsafe behaviors like in Fava’s above example.
In order to do so, the Scan-Link Passive RFID Armour Safety System consists of several components. Machinery is equipped with an antenna mounted on the back of the machine, an in-cab display with audio and visual alerts for the operator, as well as an external alarm to alert ground personnel when they are detected in the danger zone. The system can detect employees wearing Scan-Link’s passive RFID-equipped PPE within a range of 20 to 30 feet.
PPE options include safety vests in several colors and types, each equipped with at least 14 discreet Passive RFID tags behind 3M reflective tape, and Armour Hard Hat Kits to convert almost any standard hard hat into an Armour-compatible device, with 10 weatherproof, sweatproof Passive RFID tags per kit. Passive RFID tags require no batteries and no maintenance once installed.
Scan-Link also offers a Tag Health Tester to verify all apparel tags are present and functioning properly and allows for assignment of apparel ID to employees, whereas testing the apparel with the antenna can only confirm that at least one tag is being detected.
The Passive RFID tags are placed 360 degrees around the worker to maximize the possibility of detection. Scan-Link said the ability of the system to detect a tag will vary with tag orientation, movement, mounting surface, moisture content, line of sight and proximity to the human body, but that using multiple tags “means that detection of a worker becomes less dependent on their orientation as compared to a single tag style system.”
By using Passive RFID technology, Fava said Scan-Link aims to reduce instances of the system “crying wolf” and setting off the alarm for walls or other obstacles. “Our system only goes off when it detects a worker wearing RFID-tagged PPE, so the operator knows the alarm is going off for a person, and not a random object,” Fava said.
When the antenna detects an Armour-compatible piece of PPE within range, it transmits this information to a display unit near the equipment operator that uses both LED lights and an audible alarm with adjustable volume to alert the operator of that worker.
When the system detects any Passive RFID-equipped apparel within its range, it will also set off the Armour system’s external alarm, mounted on the outside of the mobile equipment, so workers in the vicinity will also hear the alert.
“The alarm drives ground personnel away from the equipment,” Fava said, sharing an example of a person standing too close to an automatic door. “After it opens a few times, your natural instinct is to move away from the door so it doesn’t detect you again. That’s exactly what happens when ground workers set off the external alarm a couple times. It helps workers understand the danger area and change their behavior.”
Scan-Link also offers a passive Marker Tag to alert equipment operators as they approach inanimate objects equipped with Marker Tags, such as pipes, bridge columns, open pits and more. The audio prompt for when a Marker Tag is detected is unique, so equipment operators can easily differentiate between people and objects.
Fava said it’s also possible to mount the antenna on the front of equipment, for example, a paver or roller. Although visibility may not be such an issue for forward-moving machinery, tracking detections can lead to behavior changes and improved training to prevent employees from entering blind spots.
Analytics are Everything
The antenna records and stores usage data, such as the number of detections, time and date of detection, location, apparel type and tag type of every detection event. Since each vest and hard hat kit has a unique ID, companies can cross-reference apparel IDs with antenna data logs to identify which employee was detected for each event.
In addition to Fava’s example, this data can also be used to identify hot spots where machines detect people most frequently. “Using this data, customers can identify areas where a struck-by incident is most likely to occur,” Fava said.
This enables customers to make decisions that will decrease the risk of an accident from happening. For example, they could move the location of materials so workers don’t have to walk in a machine’s workspace or put up signage warning employees of high-risk areas.
“If you’re just using the [system] to prevent struck-bys but you’re not changing the behavior, you’re just solving the same problem day after day,” Fava said. “To eliminate struck-by incidents, you have to know the root cause.”
“By having the data, the health and safety team is able to make positive and permanent changes to the company’s safety culture,” Fava said. “Success is not in detections, but in driving the number of detections to zero because employee behavior has changed.”
In the future, Scan-Link intends to release an application for smartphones and tablets to make the data its system collects more easily accessible.