Turning safety into profitability

Companies need to view safety as more than a cost and see it as an opportunity to improve overall performance and effectiveness. Doing that requires a culture change and being able to focus on safety risks in real time.

By Gregory Hale, ISSSource August 26, 2017

Safety technology and the professionals behind it provide a solid assurance the process and facility remain safe and sound on a daily basis, there is no doubt. While that is a vital element of process automation, there can be so much more.

To buttress the argument safety can help businesses become more profitable, an Aberdeen Group study focused on the three tiers of safety levels. The top tier is best in class and has 90% overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), 0.2% of repeat accident rate, 0.05% of injury frequency rate and 2% of unscheduled asset downtime. The top tier represented 20% of the aggregate performance scorers.

That compares to the laggard or third tier of performers that have a 76% OEE, a 10% repeat accident rate, 3% injury frequency rate and 14% of unscheduled asset downtime. The category had 30% of the aggregate performance scorers.

The middle filled out the rest with an 85% OEE, 2.4% repeat accident rate, 0.9% injury frequency rate and 6% unscheduled asset downtime.

Add on top of that, every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work related accident or disease, according to a report from the International Labour Organization. That adds up to 6,300 a day or 2.3 million a year. In addition, every 15 seconds 153 workers have a work related accident.

Looking at the studies and the statistics, it is easy is ask why don’t more manufacturers think safety first? The answer, though, is not easy as companies see safety being a cost center and not a business enabler that can boost a more profitable enterprise. That thinking may soon change.

"There has to be a senior management commitment to viewing safety as more than a cost, but an opportunity to improve performance," said Martin Turk, Schneider Electric’s director, downstream O&G global solutions architect. "There is a need for a belief—a commitment from the executive—to do something to improve performance."

Focus on profits

When the message has to come from the top, safety often ends up slighted, not because chief executives don’t believe in safety, but they have profitability issues to focus on.

"Working in a publicly traded company, the pressure (on chief executives) for profitability is so enormous and so short term, even if somebody wants to focus on safety, they are in survival mode because they have to show results next week or they are out of a job," said Peter Martin, vice president, business value solutions at Schneider Electric. "That culture is a terrible culture. I know some senior level managers that are really top notch talent that would love to have a safety environment, but they are called into meetings four times a day to find out what they are going to do to turn around profitability. To create a safety environment, there has to be a direct link between profitability and safety."

That is where real-time safety and operational profitability come into play.

"What we are finding in most plants today is they are setting up their safety limit as a constant. Never cook this over 400 degrees, never do this and never do that, so they have safety clamps on the output of your controller. You never want to have a safety incident so you clamp it at a threshold you never want to exceed even if the plant is in better condition and is running better than the safety principals," Martin said. "What if you can directly measure the safety risk and realize the plant’s normal safety threshold can be pushed a little bit because your equipment is in better shape? This way you can drive more profitability to the plant because of lower safety risk. By doing that, to a chief executive, you directly tied profitability to safety so there is a direct metric showing if you control and reduce safety risk you can actually drive more profitability. We believe that is the link to create a safety culture by mathematically showing how that can be done."

Breaking the safety and profitability barrier

The biggest barrier to linking safety and profitability is being able to measure safety risk in real time.

To do that, Martin suggested users look at three things: 

  • Operational safety measurement. This is where they develop mechanisms to come up with a simple operational safety measurement that falls under a red, yellow or green category. This comes into play if they are things like OSHA inspections and getting reports out they are green, if not they are yellow and then red.
  • Conditional safety measurement. With Big Data analytical tools, the user can go back into the process historian and analyze data around safety incidents that may have occurred historically. If they find safety incidents that may have occurred three times over the past 10 years, they can go back and identify any leading indicators. They could then then put in a real-time work flow to see if those leading indicators are coming up again and by doing that, operators and the maintenance people can receive a notification there may be a safety incident looming because the indicators that occurred the last four times for this type of a safety incident are starting to occur again. Often, they are very subtle indicators an operator would not even notice. The leading indicators can now give you a direct indication.
  • Conditional measures around and asset. The user can take an asset-centric view for analysis of their operations. This is a way to directly measure the probability of failure of an asset in real-time. By looking at the conditional measures around an asset, it is possible to work with the person that designed the pump and develop pump failure models to predict the probability of failure. If you look at a process unit, consisting of a series of equipment assets each of which has a probability of failure number, from there the user can then figure out the probability of failure for different assets. Then it would be possible to go up to a plant and learn the reliability metrics to the probability of safety incidents.

"A lot of safety incidents occur because of asset failures within an area" Martin said. "We can identify points in time where the probability of a failure or a safety incident is low. If the probability is low, we can expand the safety constraints and drive more profitability from the process. By doing that, we can directly tie safety to profitability. That, however, is the minor role. What it really does is it gives executives the proof there is a direct tie between having a safety environment and improving profitability. You can mathematically show them there is a direct tie between the two."

Smarter safety

Focusing on safety means to lean toward being conservative; that is the nature of the beast.

Instead of shrouding the plant with just one safety rule, why not clamp down on safety where it needs it, and be less overly conservative when you don’t have to be.

"Executives would like to have a safety culture, but their job is not tied to safety, it is tied to profitability, Martin said. "Safety is a necessary evil to an executive. Profitability is a necessary evil to a safety engineer. If a user can measure reliability of the assets more accurately and correctly, it is possible to create a better safety environment while driving profitability. What safety engineers have got to come to grips with is if they can do that, safety may actually become the number one priority of the executives because it is tied to profitability. What this will mean is true safety cultures will be created by the executives."

Technology is evolving and the old way of doing things—even with safety—is going away.

"We have got the tools now to do it, we have got the analytics and we have got the computer systems, let’s start using them," Martin said. "Let’s stop acting like we are in the 1930s. Let’s starting acting like we can actually do something."

Gregory Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (ISSSource.com), a news and information Website covering safety and security issues in the manufacturing automation sector. This content originally appeared on ISSSource.com. ISSSource is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE extra

See related stories from ISSSource linked below.

Original content can be found at www.isssource.com.