How do you keep your safety programs effective and relevant when there is not much data to work from? Your business can’t do pilot studies or simulations where people are likely to be injured to gather robust safety data.
Where there is a lack of easily accessible data, there is a tendency to focus safety effort on hazards and perceptions rather than on correctly assessed risks i.e. hazard consequence x likelihood. Some would argue that where there is an identified hazard, doing something is better than nothing. From my experience, safety campaigns that can’t clearly outline the actual risk lead to confusion in the workforce, distract people from real risks and lead to a false sense of security. If you want your safety group to be taken seriously, they need to be able to demonstrate that the situation is in fact...serious.
An example of this focus on hazards was a campaign on escalator usage run at a large organisation I am acquainted with. This campaign included the production of signage and demonstration material on how to use an escalator safely, so some time and effort went into it. The initial information appeared to indicate that walking on the escalator could lead to falls, but a follow up message talked about maintaining three points of contact to avoid falls, which appeared to contradict the initial message by now suggesting that walking was OK (two hands on the handrails, one foot on the step at all times).
In these circumstances, the questions I suggest need to be answered are:
1) what is the actual risk that the hazard (an escalator) poses to a person in this environment; and
2) would any of the proposed measures make a material difference to people’s safety?
A quick trawl through some equipment dealer and major auction sites this morning reveals something that won’t be a surprise to many with current economic conditions: there is a lot of good quality, used equipment on the market, at very attractive prices.
There is also some unused equipment out there that never made it to installation, or is being sold off as surplus to requirements.
So for those companies that have a bit of confidence in their operations and a modest amount of cash, this presents a number of opportunities. Opportunities to expand production, upgrade to more reliable or more economic to run equipment, or install some redundancy and back-up systems to improve overall reliability...at knock-down prices.
This is an opportune time for engineering and production managers to take a look at their operations, see where the bottlenecks or excess downtime are occurring that seemed too expensive to address in the past, and take a good look at what is available on the used market to fix these issues.
Of course, buying used doesn’t come without its risks, but understanding what you are buying and investing in some thorough checks and expert advice will keep these risks to a minimum. Like any investment, a thorough economic analysis should be done before committing, incorporating allowance for inspections and repairs that may be needed before putting the equipment into service along with all the usual depreciation and maintenance cost projections.
As with any purchase, it doesn’t hurt to get some independent advice. For those considering buying used heat transfer equipment, there is a helpful guide within the Resources page of our website to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.
Customer smartmeters for the water industry have been around for some time, but have failed to gain much traction, despite the best efforts of suppliers and utility side metering groups alike. Defining the “business case” for deploying smartmeters in terms that make them competitive against other capital expenditure has failed. Is this is a case of a solution looking for a problem?
In pure terms of capturing data for customer billing, in most urban environments smartmeters will never stack up financially against having a person manually read the meter each billing cycle. Unless the cost of smartmeters falls by more than half, manually reading the meter four to six times per year over ten years will still be a lot cheaper than the additional cost of upgrading to a smartmeter.
The other problem is that water is cheap. Trying to justify smartmeters from the point of view of water savings or improvements in planning and capital deferral is even harder. There are so many other ways that this can be achieved without using smartmeters.
But maybe smartmeters are really just a cost of doing business. At the other end of the water delivery cycle, the installation of flowmeters and other sensors are rarely questioned from a business benefit point of view; it is simply expected that they will be installed and that the information will be used somehow to benefit the business.
And then there is the question of customer and regulator expectations as to how a utility should be operating. The creation and monitoring of websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and the like have been readily adopted by water utilities, along with many other companies and government services. I doubt there has been a thorough rationalisation of the business cost-benefits of managing these information streams, rather it is simply expected that it will be done.
So where does that leave smartmeters? As a metering device or a customer engagement tool they appear to be neither fish nor fowl, essentially falling down the crack between the operations and revenue sides of the utility business. But rather than building a case for smartmeters, perhaps we are better off building a case for smarter business that meets the expectations of customers and regulators. And if that business needs to account for water in real-time, effectively manage tax accruals, drive customer water efficiency, improve worker safety and streamline its billing and revenue collection, then smartmeters must just be part of doing business.