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Level Measurement

How New Level Monitoring Devices Help Improve Plant Safety

| Author / Editor: Andreas Hessel / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Working environments in the process industry can be highly dangerous, so anything that can improve safety is hugely important.
Working environments in the process industry can be highly dangerous, so anything that can improve safety is hugely important. (Source: Emerson)

With their focus on ease-of-use, reliability and above all safety, the latest generation of level measurement devices are using advanced technology to minimise the potential for human error and can therefore help to provide greater protection for process workers and plant assets.

Implementing effective safety procedures that robustly protect personnel, assets and the surrounding community and environment is the number one priority for process plant owners and operators. If the number of accidents is to be reduced, it is important that their root cause is understood, and in the process industry they are typically the result of multiple failures to address hazards effectively. This can be because of poor management decisions, single-point equipment failures or malfunctions, knowledge deficiencies, management system inadequacies such as failure to perform hazard analysis or failure to recognise and manage change, or in many cases simply human error.

There are startling statistics that reveal just how much human error affects plant safety. According to an ARC study conducted in 2015, 40 % of accidents at chemical plants are the result of human error. Compounding this, the ARC has also reported that operator error results in 42 % of unscheduled plant shutdowns in the process industry — and it is widely accepted that more than 50 % of process safety incidents occur during transient states such as shutdowns, start-ups and unplanned operations. Focusing on reducing human error and its effects can therefore directly impact plant safety.

Increased plant automation has helped to reduce human error by taking away many decisions and activities, but plant workers still need to interact with technology during installation, commissioning, day to day operation and maintenance. A crucial strand of a plant’s overarching safety strategy should therefore be to improve the ease-of-use of its control systems, automation equipment and instrumentation. The easier a system or device is to use, the less likely it is that human operational errors will occur. Similarly, reliability has an important role to play in ensuring safety, as the more reliable a system or device is, the less likely it is to fail and potentially cause an incident that could put workers and assets at risk.

A common safety function addressed by instrumentation is to prevent the risk of overspills. For these instruments to be an effective risk-reducing solution, it is critical that they are easy to use, perform reliably, and are designed with a clear focus on process safety. The latest generation of non-contacting radars and vibrating fork level switches deliver a big step forward in all these areas. They achieve this through enhanced technology and Human Centered Design — meaning that they have been designed around how people use the technology — and they offer a range of functions that help to increase plant and worker safety.

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