Our Confined Space Entry application is a great example of leveraging web GIS to improve our business processes and deliver value to our organization.
WaterOne Streamlines Safety Workflows for Confined Space Entry
Author: Amanda Edmondson, GIS Applications Developer/Analyst | Geospatial Services, WaterOne
WaterOne is dedicated to providing safe, reliable, high-quality water with exceptional service and value to its nearly 455,000 customers who are primarily located in Johnson County, a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas. To ensure that high-quality water is reliably reaching each customer, field crews continually inspect, maintain, repair, and replace assets across the water network. This work is not only demanding but can also be dangerous. It requires trained personnel to enter spaces with known but mitigable hazards, such as low oxygen levels.
Dusty Sease, an assistant manager in the Construction, Maintenance, and Valving Services (CMVS) department came to the Geospatial Services department with the idea of modernizing the confined space entry process. The Geospatial Services department teamed up with Sease and Clint Schmitter from the Safety and Security department to make it happen. The Safety and Security department at WaterOne does an excellent job of ensuring that personnel are properly educated and kept up-to-date on safety training. The previous confined space entry permitting process was effective at keeping crews safe, but it was a manual paper-based process with the same drawbacks as any paper-based workflow.
Reinforcing the Commitment to Safety
The development of a streamlined, digital process for confined space permitting was an important project because it reinforced WaterOne's commitment to safety. Before starting this project, a few goals and reasons for digitizing the confined space entry process were discussed.
One goal was to help reduce simple mistakes, like typos, that come with filling out a paper form by hand. For example, it is easy to accidentally write down the wrong asset ID (a unique 9-digit number assigned to all water distribution assets) or a vague location (usually an address or street intersection with direction and distance). There were also concerns with handwriting being hard to read, the ink getting smudged, and the paper getting battered or blown out of crews' hands. The crews are out in the elements—wind, rain, snow, excessive heat, or cold all take a toll on paper.
Another goal was to improve the management of the confined space entry permits after the crews are safely out of the confined spaces. The previous process had crews handing off the permits to be scanned and placed on a file share. That meant there was often a day or two lag before the permits made it to the file share. Also, there was no easy way to search for past permits aside from looking at file names and dates.
A third goal was to utilize the geographic information system (GIS) to manage and maintain the authoritative list of confined spaces more efficiently.
Using GIS to Improve the Process
WaterOne chose to use a combination of ArcGIS Web AppBuilder, ArcGIS Survey123, and ArcGIS Dashboards to support the new digital confined space entry permitting process. ArcGIS was an easy choice for WaterOne because it was already being used for other applications, and the GIS already contained a robust water distribution system. Additionally, ArcGIS is a valuable tool because it can be configured to meet WaterOne's specific business needs and implemented relatively quickly.
By putting already available GIS data into ArcGIS Web AppBuilder, field crews were able to easily identify confined spaces near their work sites. A couple of applications were created for the CMVS and Meter Services departments so the application could be focused on just the confined space assets that pertained to those crews. Each application links to the same basic confined space entry form, allowing the standardization needed when adhering to safety and security protocols. Since the field crews start the process by selecting an existing asset in the GIS, that asset's ID, location, and other important information are automatically populated in the digital confined space entry form. This improved data integrity by reducing free-form typing.
An interesting challenge for this project was that the new process affected a lot of different sectors of WaterOne. This project involved three different divisions and six departments within those divisions. Starting the process by selecting an existing asset was not an option for treatment plant staff because treatment plant assets are not part of WaterOne's GIS yet. Fortunately, ArcGIS Survey123 has the capability to allow the treatment plant staff to choose their current location instead of starting from an existing asset.
The digital confined space entry form created with ArcGIS Survey123 was configured to provide a familiar version of the paper-based permit that walks crews through the process of evaluating the hazards associated with a confined space. Being able to add dynamic notes, such as warnings when atmospheric levels are out of tolerance, helped to enhance the process and keep crews focused on safety.
“The application helps provide the necessary information to complete the confined space entry when needed. When we enter the information its quick and easy to use.” - Jonathan Haubein, WaterOne Meter Maintenance Technician
ArcGIS Dashboards allowed crews, managers, and the Safety and Security department to easily monitor, access, and manage the permits of recently and previously entered confined spaces. And now that crews were submitting the permits while still in the field, completed permits were immediately accessible, eliminating the previous one- to two-day lag experienced with the paper form submissions.
New Process Benefits More Than Permitting
Since the confined space permits are now digital and part of the GIS, the GIS can be used to manage, maintain, and ensure better quality control of the main list of known confined spaces. The benefits gained from modernizing the permit process have made this project a great success.
- Staff can quickly identify confined spaces specific to the work they are assigned.
- Safety and security protocols are being met with standardized forms that include the automatic population of asset information.
- Smart forms walk crews through confined space hazard evaluation, keeping them focused on safety.
- Immediate access to permits enables crews, managers, and the Safety and Security department to better monitor and manage work.
In addition, having the confined space entry permits in GIS has unintentionally helped perform quality control on the GIS data by identifying missing pits and vaults. Seeing high-level metrics such as where and how many confined spaces are being entered every day was another unforeseen benefit. After the confined space entry dataset becomes more mature, there may be an added benefit in analyzing confined space entry data to identify which locations throughout WaterOne's network are most likely to produce hazardous conditions such as those requiring ventilation.
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