Skip to main content Skip to Footer


July 12, 2018
Using digital technologies to transform workplace safety
By: Nikhil Kaul and Anurag Lodha

Every year, work-related safety incidents and illnesses take approximately two million lives and cost the global economy an estimated $1.25 trillion (4 percent of global GDP).1 These are alarming figures. What’s more, most of this loss—perhaps all—is avoidable.

How? By taking a more proactive approach to managing operational risk, using digital techniques which enable real-time and predictive insights into plant operations. For process-intensive industries like Oil & Gas, this means understanding and monitoring the organization’s lines of defense—the “safety barriers”—in a far more holistic way.

However, improving safety is no easy ask. While most operations managers understand the need for more proactive risk management, they often lack the real-time insights they need to make it a reality. As many as two-thirds of senior executives and technical leaders say operations don’t understand the most critical aspects of managing process safety risk.2

Moreover, their teams often aren’t working together holistically. Too many perform their discrete functions without a full understanding of the bigger safety picture. Their strategies are too often centered on maintenance, and even then, are sometimes performed half-heartedly due to an excessive focus on routine manual exercises.

The challenges go deeper still. A plant’s risk management procedures are often too static, based on the technical and mechanical safety barriers implemented during commissioning or start-up, and lacking enough agility or dynamism to handle hidden dependencies and inevitable degradations over time. They also usually fail to account for the organizational and human factors that are often the most important root cause of major safety incidents.

The solution? Recognize that a plant’s safety barriers are highly complex systems comprising numerous interdependent elements. And that all aspects of those systems—organizational, operational, human—can and should now be monitored in real time.

New Concept: Digital Barrier Management

Digital technology offers a potential step-change. A new concept—Digital Barrier Management—is emerging, which leverages the vast amounts of data already being produced by plant systems and lets operations teams comprehensively manage all their safety barriers in real time. With instant visibility into any degradations in those barriers, HSE personnel can take much more proactive action, reinstating barriers before failure occurs, hence, preventing incidents and saving lives.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of Digital Barrier Management is its focus on defining the root causes of barrier failures. Baked into the core of the approach is an assumption that such failures originate in a web of underlying processes and parameters not always evident during routine physical inspections or audits.

It also recognizes that maintenance failure is just one type of safety barrier that can be impaired. Others—whether operational, organizational, or human—can only be assessed by diving deep into the organization’s processes and developing a sophisticated understanding of all the causal factors influencing plant safety performance.

By identifying those critical parameters—everything from simple factors like asset pressure or temperature to more complex influences like employee competence—and monitoring them in real time through a single platform, Digital Barrier Management offers operations managers unprecedented safety insights in an intuitive and user-friendly way.

Above all, it helps them widen the safety focus to encompass the whole organization—and realize the promise of truly proactive and predictive risk management. The effect on workplace safety is genuinely transformative.

2 Petrotechnics’ 2017 survey on Process Safety and Risk Management


Popular Tags

    More blogs on this topic