Written by Chris Potts, Marketing Director, ANT Telecom
Across all sectors there are differing regulations and practices that organisations need to adhere to in order 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 crucially – accurate.
Chris Potts, Marketing Director, ANT Telecom explains how automated compliance monitoring through the use of IoT sensor technology can support businesses in achieving these goals, as well as providing further data-led insight to take proactive and preventative action where necessary.
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. Additionally, the monotonous nature of the task means that shortcuts can be taken, readings fabricated or information not documented legibly.
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.
Additionally, it’s not just offices, hospitality and education environments that suffer with managing fresh air (ventilation) and CO2 levels. Within healthcare, staff, patients’ and visitors’ wellbeing is affected by bad air quality here too; and managers have to often choose between keeping doors and windows open to provide fresh air. This can often make the physical environment and surrounding premises cold and uncomfortable; which, in itself, might increase absence due to causing illness and / or compromises on air quality; with the added knock-on effect of increased heating costs, to compensate for cold premises. However, the conundrum is that this good air quality is key to reducing the risk of staff being becoming sick due to catching a virus of any sorts; which is even more crucial, as seen through today’s pandemic.
Moreover, in healthcare, in the case of vaccines, and other critical medicines or samples, they may need to be destroyed if compliance is not met. Often, it’s the nurses who become burdened and inundated with the required administrative monitoring and reporting tasks to ensure compliance is met. At a time when the NHS has a huge backlog or critical cases and healthcare challenges, is this really the best use of nurses’ expertise and time? What is more, it is also worth considering that just one single case of non-compliance can lead to detrimental consequences, depending on the sector. For instance, in food and hospitality sectors, contaminated food, in the best case, ends up in the bin. In the worst case, it ends up on the consumer’s table and potentially causes illness and other problems.
It’s clear that Covid-19 has resulted in staff shortages in many workplaces, and in some cases where employees have been made redundant or furloughed, 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. How can they be sure that all necessary checks have been carried out at the right time and to the required standard, especially if they may not even be on site?
Many businesses have had to streamline their workforce considerably during the last 18 months; it has become imperative, in many cases, that resource within the business is focused on essential operations for success and growth rather than lengthy manual monitoring tasks. 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 solution 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. Additionally, over-chilling certain foods can affect quality, leading to issues such as watery yoghurt in supermarket fridges. So, by ensuring that food contents are stored at correct temperatures, product quality – and therefore customer satisfaction – can be improved and maintained.
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 it’s likely people would 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. No one would think of walking around with a smoke detector to spot check if there might be a risk of a fire – okay, granted, the risk of damage to staff and premises is higher from a fire, but the principle is the same. Furthermore, today, sensors are quick and easy to install and do not require any expensive wiring to run, or an overhaul to existing infrastructure. The solutions are cloud based, making it much simpler to leverage, 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.
Overcoming regulatory challenges
Businesses should not let staff shortages and old-fashioned manual processes stifle their development, growth or compliance efforts. The pandemic has held many organisations back and had significant impacts on continuity so it’s crucial organisations learn from this and evolve in line with new technology capabilities – especially with predictions that machines will be responsible for half of all work tasks by 2025. 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 solutions also act 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 solutions can streamline operations, release time within the business, and protect staff, customers and students across a range of industries.