What is profitable safety?

By Gary Freburger

How often do you hear the words "safety" and "profit" in the same sentence? For many automation professionals, safety and profitability are diametrically opposed. Because a manufacturer's primary business objective is to create profits, protecting the safety of the plant's people, assets, and environment is often seen as a necessary cost of doing business. Safety is not usually part of the profitability calculation. Instead, industrial environment, health, and safety (EH&S) teams are viewed as adjunct organizations-cost centers that are not part of the mainstream business. That has made their job unnecessarily challenging. All of that is about to change.

With today's technology and data analytics, we now understand that the safety of the operation can have a direct, positive impact on the operational profitability of the plant. By viewing EH&S as a profit center instead of a business cost, new levels of safety and profitability can result.

By now we are all aware that Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things are redefining how manufacturers control the performance of their industrial assets and operations. Technology advancements are enabling companies to shift from managing their business performance month to month or on other artificial schedules to controlling it in real time. Smarter, more autonomous equipment assets, and a workforce that is empowered to make better business decisions, mean plant managers can continuously control critical business variables and risks to maximize process productivity, performance, and even the profitability of the operation, safely.

Today, almost every industrial safety operation is performing suboptimally when it comes to the potential business value it can generate. For decades, industrial professionals have recognized the high cost of unexpected events, such as fires and explosions, on productivity. Damage, be it to the equipment, facility, or environment, causes business interruption and skyrocketing insurance premiums. The cost to public image and trust can be monumental. Industry has responded by implementing functional safety programs, such as installing safety instrumented systems (SISs) that detect pending unsafe conditions and take corrective actions automatically. These systems have helped effectively avoid predefined unsafe events and are a huge step forward. But they are just a piece of the potential operational profitability improvements an effective safety control solution can produce.

Modern safety systems can now quickly gather and analyze data, thereby driving rapid, highly accurate operating and business decisions in real time. Predictive analytic algorithms can be configured to identify looming threats to the safety of the plant's people, assets, and production, allowing operators to act before anything happens. By leveraging process safety controllers and SISs that meet stringent safety, cybersecurity, risk reduction, and continuous operation requirements, industrial safety professionals can create a closed-loop safety model and accurately predict when safety risk factors will exceed accepted thresholds, thus avoiding incidents while helping plant operators determine how hard they can safely push the plant's profitable performance.

The future of industrial safety is upon us. Increased operational profitability can be realized by taking control of real-time safety variables, and it is bringing the EH&S function into the mainstream of industrial business processes. There is a move away from traditional functional safety, which is reactive by nature, to a more holistic approach focused on the three P's of safety: productivity, performance, and profit. Advancements in hardware and software, like real-time control and predictive analytics, are unlocking new performance and value and allowing safety personnel to do things never previously possible. This allows safety operations to align even better with the strategic goals of the business to boost profitability. Not only can safety and profit peacefully coexist, they can also thrive together as an integral component of the industrial profit engine. That is profitable safety.

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About the Author

Gary FreburgerGary Freburger is president of Schneider Electric’s Process Automation business. He was previously COO for both Invensys Operations Management and Invensys plc, as well as the senior vice president, global operations, for Invensys Controls. He holds a BS in industrial management and an executive MBA. He is also a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. Send questions and comments to Christine Gandolfi.

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