Keeping people safe in hazardous environments

Published:  05 May, 2020

Technology designed to keep people safe in highly hazardous environments has been developed by a collaboration of two companies.

Teams from REACT Engineering and Createc overcame working remotely through the COVID-19 lockdown to complete their pioneering system.

REACT Engineering owned the problem, and worked with Createc on the technology which would help provide the solution. Both companies have proven experience in solving some of the world’s most complex industrial challenges.

The result is ALARP Angel technology which allows a task to be fully defined, planned, rehearsed and executed in a dynamic highly hazardous environment.

The ALARP Angel software, which maximises operations and minimises risks, makes a task safer, faster, and cheaper to deliver, and can be used in a range of environments across different industries.

The system, developed in a tight 12-month timescale as part of an industry challenge, gives added value by covering the full lifecycle of a project - the characterisation of an environment using a range of high-tech tools, training in VR and, if appropriate, a mock-up environment, and live real-time monitoring while a task is executed

All the information is stored electronically in the ALARP Angel software and the way of working means risk to operators is minimised as:

*hazardous environments have been fully characterised using the latest high-tech tools and technology

*full training has been carried out without entering the hazardous environment - by using VR technology and mock-up environments where appropriate

*live-monitoring technology means any change in the environment is communicated from a supervisor to an operator via a wearable device while they are carrying out the task which leads to faster, fully-informed decision making

Costs are kept down because the tasks can all be rehearsed in virtual and mock-up environments.

And operations are maximised because with the live information available from the supervisor throughout the task the operator is able to concentrate on the executing the job, and if there’s a change in environment, exit or switch to another, safer task.

ALARP Angel can be modified to address any measurable or location based hazard, making it applicable to a wide variety of scenarios in a range of industries.

It can independently track multiple operators in a busy environment using Createc’s SLATE technology developed for the Ministry of Defence. And it can also track operators at any working height.

In the nuclear decommissioning environment characterisation is carried out using Createc’s proven N-Visage® system which has been commercially deployed at Sellafield in Cumbria, and extensively at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan.

The ALARP Angel technology has been developed through a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) to protect nuclear decommissioning operators.

The competition, organised by Innovate UK and funded by Sellafield, was run in two stages with the final stage being concluded after COVID-19 lockdown.

Five team members from REACT Engineering and seven from Createc worked together on the programme as a combined team

Chris Woolhouse of REACT Engineering, who led the project, said: “The funded competition gave the two companies - REACT Engineering and Createc - the opportunity to collaborate and use the skills and expertise within both companies to develop this technology.

“The focus of ALARP Angel was to create a platform for managing tasks and easily link different technologies throughout the lifecycle of that task.

“We also wanted to make sure we used flexible technology which is just as applicable in other industries, such as oil and gas, nuclear decommissioning, military, or any emergency response where individuals are at risk from potential hazards.

“With the live real-time monitoring, using the connected operator principle taken from the military, a supervisor is able to see inside the environment and inform the operator to ensure they stay safe from any changes which occur.

“Because the environment has been fully characterised, and because the operator has been able to use VR and mock-up environments to rehearse how they will work in the space, any new information in the live environment is kept to a minimum.

“In a high hazard environment the operator may be wearing PPE, or they may be in a noisy or hot environment, so it’s important to allow them to concentrate on carrying out the rehearsed task with minimal distractions. Wearable technology means they can also have simple, easy-to-follow, and well-rehearsed instructions of how to carry out the task on their devices.”

David Clark, Createc’s operations director, said: “Through characterisation, planning and training, the ALARP Angel software enables people to work in a way which minimises risk and optimises efficiency of carrying out tasks.

“It’s about planning tasks and training people to carry out those tasks in a way which is safer, faster and cheaper.

“By using VR technology within the system operators are able to experience the environment and ‘see’ the hazards and rehearse them and learn how best to move around that space.

“It also allows you to train for a series of ‘what if’ scenarios, by rehearsing for different events, so operators are fully trained and able to respond effectively to a range of changing situations without the need to enter the hazardous environment until they are carrying out the task.

“When the task is being carried out, the live real-time monitoring allows operators to be tracked around a facility.

“In a civil nuclear environment ALARP Angel means operators minimise dose time and execute the task in the most efficient way possible.”

The COVID-19 outbreak meant the programme needed to be completed after lockdown, which created an extra challenge for the teams.

Chris said: “With everyone self isolating we had to complete the testing and demonstrating in lockdown while working from home.

“Because both teams work on projects all over the world we are used to using the latest technology to work remotely and we actually finished the final phase ahead of schedule, which is very satisfying.

“The feedback from the Sellafield client has been very positive in what both companies have delivered in terms of value in such a short period of time.”

A demonstration event for the ALARP Angel technology for stakeholders and interested businesses and organisations had had to be postponed due to COVID-19.

But plans are in place to hold a virtual demonstration event. In the meantime those interested in the technology can access a video online and are asked to contact Chris Woolhouse or David Clark at REACT Engineering and Createc respectively for further details.

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