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How are Smart FM Solutions Transforming the Narrative on Safety?

Thian Sung Tai • 05/08/2019

The Building and Construction Authority’s 2018 Real Estate Industry Transformation Map outlined its vision to automate facility management with various tiers of smart FM sophistication that FM companies can aspire to achieve. That smart FM solutions improve productivity is widely acknowledged. But improvements in safety is a secondary but equally important objective.

The facility manager plays an important role to ensure that safety is a key measure of success for any FM tech solution. The sector has already witnessed a fair amount of success with technology in improving levels of safety at facilities but as technology becomes more advanced, so too the need for facility managers to be trained to ensure the safety of facilities and the people who occupy them.

Drones


The advent of drone technology provides many benefits in terms of building inspection safety. It is now fairly common practice for drones to perform roof or facade inspections without the need to physically access to elevated location, expose personnel to fall from height risk and prolong exposure to harsh outdoor environments. The maneuvrability of the drone allows for high quality aerial photography. The digitization of inspection also enables FM staff to revisit the video footage without the need to revisit the physical site, reducing potential risks to the safety of technicians who would otherwise have to scale up the building to conduct the inspections themselves.

Today, more FM staff are being trained as authorised pilots to fly drones. Operations are also being expanded to more fly zones in order to further reduce fall from height risk, the number one cause of Singapore’s workplace fatalities. Some facilities are now exploring the expertise of rope access experts to access specific spots identified by the drone cameras to trouble shoot and rectify defects. Such expertise calls for extra measures to ensure the safety of the rope access experts. These measures have taken on more urgency with the BCA tightening regulations around façade inspections. As standard, building exteriors have to be inspected every seven years, which only increases the urgency for these approaches to find mainstream adoption.

Adoption of Robotic Technologies

Changi Airport will push out 300 cleaning robots at Terminal 4 by March 2020. At JTC’s Jurong Innovation District, plans are afoot for cleaning robots to be mobilised at its facilities, paving the way for the wide scale adoption of robotic technology in the maintenance of commercial work spaces.

Traditional industrial robots often perform monotonous tasks in an unobstructed environment and at a distance from humans – for good safety reason. New commercial robots such as autonomous cleaning equipment are designed to operate in much more complex environment with the presence of human, obstacles and constantly changing conditions. They are equipped with much more sophisticated hazard avoidance technology with greater precision through the use of advanced sensor systems, imaging technology, and artificial intelligence algorithms and navigation systems.

However, despite inherent protections and functional safety that are built into their design accordance to safety standard, autonomous robots may still pose certain levels of risk throughout their lifecycles. It is crucial for Facility Managers to be trained in the the risks of autonomous robots and know how they will impact staff training, maintenance regimes, and work environments.

Using IoT and Cloud to enhance safety

The Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud-based technology presents tremendous potential for creating intelligent solutions to ensure safety for workers and work processes from start to finish.

IoT is particularly useful when it’s applied to the task of managing and controlling hazardous energy on site. Before starting their maintenance duty, a technician logs the identity of the equipment either by scanning its barcode or typing in its identity number using the same application. On recognising the equipment, the app prompts the technician through the essential steps required and confirm the hazardous energy is isolated and controlled through IoT enabled devices.

The technician completes their inspection using a cloud-based checklist. Going through the checklist, they can capture the data instantly as they inspect them while the app alerts and guide them through the various precautionary steps required. On the cloud, facility managers will be able to check if safety standards are met and fix defects faster.

Work Environment Monitoring

The use of cloud-based technology paired with wearable devices or smart PPE equipped with environmental sensor will enable real time monitoring of employee work environment and vital signs. On a hot afternoon, for example, it can detect a staff member who has worked outdoors with exposure to excessive temperature over a prolonged period. The application will prompt the staff of the exposure and advise them to take a rest and replenish with enough fluid before continuing his work.

Cloud-computing platforms can be equipped with smart analytics algorithms or modules to analyse and propose future work schedule with relevant monitoring data for operational decision-making. They will also be able to subsequently monitor the condition and even their performance under the new work schedule.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Work in facility maintenance typically requires working in an unfamiliar environment and elevated location to execute maintenance activities.

Virtual-reality-based training will able to provide virtual scenarios to simulate situations that might occur in the actual work environment and enable the technician to be aware of workplace hazards and to be familiar with safety procedures that technicians need to adhere to during the actual work in these environments.

Augmented-reality-based training will provide understanding to the operation and functionality of the equipment and enable hands-on maintenance on the equipment in an augmented reality environment. This can provide essential maintenance information or instruction and highlight hazardous steps or critical safety precautions during a maintenance process.

By harnessing the strength of innovative training solutions, it takes less time to upskill, deep-skill, and enhance the knowledge level of junior technicians and enable them to experience real life hazardous conditions without exposing them to danger.

Smart FM Solutions Limitation

The adoption of Smart FM solutions is aligned with Singapore’s Workplace Health and Safety (WSH) 2028 strategy to promote technology adoption whilst maintaining the highest standards of safety. Still, there are limits to the amount of risk that can be minimised through technology.

A comprehensive, well-developed on-site fall prevention plan providing safe access to the roof with permanent horizontal lifelines system would still be required to prevent falling from heights, for example.

FM professionals should work towards equipping themselves with the right safety mindset, promoting a healthy and safety workplace climate, and enhance culture of prevention to deepen WSH ownership among the employee and contractor to transform safety policy into real safety outcomes.

Getting the Most from Smart FM Solutions

Making FM technology solutions work for your business is not just about making the financial investment. It’s also about developing a culture of innovation which allows such solutions to become a fundamental part of how work is carried out. To find out more about fostering such mindsets check out this blog post from Su Chen Cheng.

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