Chris Potts, Marketing Director at ANT Telecom explains how IoT sensor technology can be used for automated compliance monitoring
Across all industry sectors, companies need to comply with different regulations and practices to operate their businesses safely, effectively and efficiently. From hygienic food storage, to the safety of materials handling equipment and monitoring when certain assets or equipment might fail, businesses need to record data and check its accuracy to prove their product or equipment is safe and that the organisation is adhering to consistent safety measures.
Yet in many cases, businesses continue to rely on manual, time consuming, paper-based monitoring processes which are not only inefficient, but also have a high likelihood of inaccuracy. With pressures increasing on businesses to improve productivity and streamline their operations, they need a means of performing these critical regulatory processes in a way that not only saves valuable time, but also provides peace of mind that these checks are timely and accurate.
Not only must the food industry comply with HACCP compliance requirements, but industries such as warehousing and logistics – where Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance applies – also have compliance responsibilities; as well as education and office environments. Every business must adhere to regulations, but for certain sectors these can be complex and time consuming to monitor.
In the case of warehousing, the HSE recommends that racking units are checked annually by a SEMA (Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association) approved racking inspector, and regularly by staff to inspect any damage or weakness in the structure. For many businesses the sheer scale of warehouse racking means it takes a significant amount of time to inspect on a frequent basis. Moreover, is a visual inspection enough to identify safety issues that could put lives at risk?
For office, hospitality and education environments, the law states that ‘employers must ensure an adequate supply of fresh air (ventilation) in enclosed areas of the workplace’. Not only is this crucial for Covid-19 safety, but it is also vital in terms of employee and student wellbeing. To align with these regulations CO2 levels must be measured accurately and by taking a range of factors into account, such as the number of people within a location and measuring at certain times throughout the day so that appropriate action can be taken if required. This long winded and manual process is an administrative burden to manage accurately and effectively.
It’s clear that Covid-19 has resulted in staff shortages in many workplaces, and in some cases, the task of monitoring has to be allocated as an additional responsibility for others. But this can add further complexity if management lacks the visibility of what has been checked and when.
Despite this, adhering to regulations is still as important as ever, but with advances in technology, those businesses that turn to automated monitoring solutions will benefit not just from time saved, but peace of mind that essential processes are now automatically completed – with the ability to generate additional insight to learn and take action from.
In many cases of regulatory compliance, wireless IoT sensor technology can be used for asset or environment monitoring. Rather than workers needing to observe and physically note down recordings, information is automatically documented, stored and can be used to automatically generate charts and reports that match the relevant regulatory requirements for that particular industry.
For instance, in the food industry wireless sensors can be placed within fridges and freezers that will regularly check and record the temperatures and generate daily and weekly reports. An automated system not only improves safety standards by enabling monitoring at frequent intervals, but it can reduce the staffing needed and can help alert staff to fridge breakdowns in real time to reduce wastage. Monitoring other parameters such as power and energy readings can help predict early risk of machine failure and reduce energy consumption, which can lead to valuable cost savings.
Within the warehousing industry, racking vibrations can be monitored automatically through IoT sensors to help detect when and where racks are hit and/or compromised to help to reduce the need to manually check all the racks. With this monitoring in place, the ability to immediately respond to these incidents also improves forklift drivers’, and other workers’, awareness and care in these scenarios. Effective monitoring in place also results in driving more targeted tasks for those involved in managing the problem, and a reduction in the labour and time costs associated with this. Further, it means that issues can be detected that wouldn’t necessarily be spotted by a visual inspection alone, so problems can be identified and fixed before they escalate.
In education, hospitality and office environments, a typical monitoring challenge is knowing whether the workspace is ventilated enough to reduce the risk of infections like Covid spreading and be deemed safe for use. CO2 monitoring equipment can measure levels within the space, however to get accurate readings the measuring equipment needs to be in the right place and the readings need to be taken and recorded over a time period. Certain factors will affect CO2 levels, for example the number of people within the room and of course how much fresh air is coming in from opened windows and ventilation systems. Without the aid of technology, regularly checking these levels and noting down readings is hugely time consuming and consequently people are likely to miss when the CO2 levels become too high. Automating the process ensures readings are taken and recorded regularly making it far easier to manage ventilation, and should levels hit a certain threshold, designated team members can be alerted immediately to take action such as open windows or turn on ventilation systems.
Another factor to consider is that some organisations might just opt for handheld CO2 monitors. This approach is not effective as CO2 levels develop over time, based on the number of people in a particular area (e.g. the office). A spot check on ventilation in the morning won’t be sufficient to provide useful consistent data through the day. Today, sensors are quick and easy to install and do not require any expensive wiring to run, or an overhaul to existing infrastructure. The systems are cloud based, making it much simpler to use, and registered users can also access the data from a secure portal from any web browser, enabling effective senior management oversight, even from a remote location.
Businesses should not let staff shortages and old-fashioned manual processes stifle their development, growth or compliance efforts. Automating menial monitoring tasks frees up staff and improves efficiency on a number of levels, allowing staff to focus on much more valuable, skilled tasks. Automated monitoring also acts as a failsafe for when staff are off ill or if staff levels need to be reduced, after all, compliance measures are always required and do not change just because staff are unavailable. Ultimately, these methods can streamline operations, release time within the business, and protect staff, customers and students across a range of industries.