3 Ways robots improve the way you manage confined spaces

LinkedIn Article | December 5th, 2017

A Confined Space is generally described as an enclosed or partially enclosed space not designed for humans to live or work in, with hazards associated to its entry.
Confined Spaces are commonly found on industrial sites – for example tanks, vessels, stacks and boilers. But did you know that even familiar places such as underground tunnels, a grain silo, or a floating pontoon can be a Confined Space too?

Entering a Confined Space is very dangerous unless done properly and by qualified professionals. Many companies and organisations use the national model Code of Practice for Confined Spaces developed by Safe Work Australia to help comply with the legal Workplace Health and Safety requirements in their jurisdiction. State WHS departments also publish regular summaries should you wish to refresh your knowledge.

But apart from raising awareness and sharpening our processes, how can we do better? Well, you get the best bang-for-buck by following the well-known hierarchy of risk control, which says if you can eliminate a risk altogether, then this is the preferred approach. Applying this to a Confined Space means every time we do not (need to) enter the space, we eliminate the hazard and improve our safety record.

Certain tasks do need people to enter and work inside a Confined Space, such as maintenance or repairs. But how many times did you wish you could just have a look inside to see everything was okay, or to see why something was playing up? And wouldn’t you prefer to have a look to justify and work out the details of the work that needed to be done? Visual inspection by means of robotic equipment controlled from the outside is now an established practice, and working with specialist drone technology and highly skilled pilots myself, I’ve seen the ease and clarity a visual robot inspection can bring to an industrial site.

The advantages of a visual robotic inspection are diverse and can help improve the way you manage Confined Spaces threefold:

Improved safety – No entry means no Confined Space hazard and is a safer way to operate. Also, inspection drones can reach inaccessible places without a need for rope climbers or scaffolders – another potential safety benefit.
Reduced downtime – Preparations to make a Confined Space ready for people to enter and work in safely are often one of the most laborious and time-consuming parts of the process. To whatever extent a much simpler robotic inspection is able to reduce the need for procedures, climbing, scaffolding etcetera, it will deliver a substantial time saving and reduction of downtime.
Lower cost – Last but not least, saving time means saving money. Having to hire less safety workers saves money. And overall, reducing downtime means having a smaller standstill cost.

Not only does it make perfect sense to deploy a robot to protect human life where possible, it also makes for a potentially faster and more economic option compared to the more traditional approach. So next time, consider how robotic technology could help you manage your Confined Spaces safer, faster, or cheaper.

Just a year ago in another post I was contemplating what Remotely Piloted Aircraft would be able to do tomorrow … and now visual robotic inspections are here to stay! If you want to know more about the possibilities and experience to date, please contact the author directly.