Thursday, November 30, 2006


Safety without wires

Applying the latest wireless technologies to a range of BP operations is helping to enhance safety for people, process plants and pipelines around the world. Michelle Brown reports 

Should an emergency situation arise at an industrial site your natural reaction would be to get out swiftly. Swiping your ID badge as you leave might be the last thing on your mind. But what happens if the rescue services think you’re still in the affected area? An entire team could put themselves at risk trying to save someone who is not even there.

Locating all personnel quickly in such circumstances is just one aspect of operational safety that BP’s Digital Communications Technology (DCT) team has been looking at as part of the company’s commitment to enhancing safety.

While technology is no substitute for personal responsibility, DCT’s Chief Technology Office (CTO) has been working with a number of BP’s business units to explore technologies that promise to support the company’s workforce in making their environment more secure.

‘Safety ultimately is about people, their behaviours and their attitude to working safely. But technology can augment their efforts to create a safer working environment,’ says Ken Douglas, CTO director of mobile and wireless applications.

In common with a number of CTO projects in the area of safety and security, the solution to finding everyone after an incident falls under BP’s ‘sensory networks’ and ‘clipboard to computer’ initiatives (Frontiers, April 2004). These projects use a range of wireless sensor technologies to keep managers informed – on site and remotely – about what’s going on.

In the case of personnel tracking, BP has developed a Location Aware Safety System (LASS) that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to enable safety managers to see at a glance where everyone is on a computer-based map of the site. RFID ‘smart tags’ have a chip and antenna that enable them to be located using radio signals.

Personnel wear RFID-equipped badges that broadcast their whereabouts each second to a network of wireless transmitters located around the plant. The transmitter network tracks the badges and sends the information to a central computer, which displays their location on a map of the site.

CTO applications director Curt Smith stresses that location awareness is about safety, not snooping on employees. ‘You can set it up to black out certain areas where monitoring is not appropriate. The employees see LASS as a key to improving their safety.’

The system was trialled successfully in the USA last August at BP’s Cherry Point refinery in Washington state, in the reformer process area. A project is now under way to implement LASS throughout the 250 hectare site by the end of 2006.

The technique of using RFID tags with a wireless network also lies at the heart of a separate project to tackle lifting-related accidents within BP’s exploration and production business. Historically, lifting accidents have proved to be a hazard throughout the industry on offshore installations and drilling rigs, and in pipe-laying operations.
‘Many of the people struck by heavy crane loads or lengths of pipe wouldn’t be at risk if the driver had complete awareness of everyone in the vicinity,’ Douglas points out.

But applying location awareness to lifting operations is a different challenge from personnel tracking over a large area. Fast-moving loads call for real-time information and predictive algorithms that can tell the driver if the load is on a collision course with someone. The rapidly changing environment is another issue. Most location tracking systems are pre-programmed with the plant layout but the topology of a deck changes each time a container moves. Two field trials took place last year in Aberdeen, with the next exploratory phase of the project due to begin later this year. DCT expects to have a usable system in place within two or three years.

Source : British Petroleum

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