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The value of network audio in hazardous areas

PPE Outdoors oil refinery walking

Hazardous areas pose an inherent risk. With the potential for combustions to occur, it is important to consider how you can integrate technology to enhance not only health and safety, but also operational efficiency and security.

Many industrial settings are hazardous due to the potential presence of combustible substances such as gas or dust. While natural gas is an important energy source, various gases are also commonly used as an additive in industrial and manufacturing production sectors, which comes with associated hazards. For instance, as a natural byproduct of oil extraction and processing, the presence of gas means oil refineries are at risk of explosion – as seen, for example, in both Iran and Guinea.

Other, perhaps less widely recognized, environments can also be deemed hazardous. Those producing significant amounts of dust and fibers, whether from ingredients for food, such as flour and sugar, or material used in farming, like fertilizer, or dust in the post processing of timber, or fibers in producing textiles – the risk of fire or explosion is ever-present.

While these high-risk areas may already have emergency EVAC systems in place to ensure the safety of personnel in the event of an emergency, additional complementary solutions, such as explosion-protected cameras and network audio are available. When combined, these IP-based solutions can be used to share automatic or manually triggered pre-recorded or live voice messages. This comes with several use cases. Whether it’s to further improve staff safety, optimize operational efficiency, or enhance security, this article explores the benefits of network audio in a hazardous setting.

The benefits of network solutions

Network audio is already used across a number of industries, but until recently, it had not been designed for use in hazardous areas. However, the latest development in this space means network audio solutions are now coming to these high-risk environments with the introduction of IP-based explosion-protected horn speakers.

Prior to this, the market relied solely on analog speakers. While network solutions don’t rule out the use of analog in hazardous areas – as they’re still required for EVAC purposes – network audio can add real value when used alongside these traditional audio counterparts. Network solutions are less costly to install, and do not require complex wiring and long cabling. This can prove beneficial as electrical installations can only be conducted when an area is deemed ‘safe’, or ‘non-hazardous’, in line with regulations. This means production needs to shut down during the whole installation period, which can come with a high opportunity cost to your business. This is where the benefits of digital audio solutions come in; they are faster and easier to install, configure and use.

This smart solution comes with further benefits over traditional audio. As an all-in-one offering with a Power over Ethernet (PoE) connection, it allows you to combine hardware and software, including audio management. Network audio also enables you to conduct system health testing remotely, so you don’t need to go on site to check that the system is working correctly as you would for an analog solution. Plus, as it’s built on an open platform, you can connect the network speaker to your wider surveillance system. This is useful for a hazardous area, enabling you to utilize combined solutions to better protect the health and safety of your staff, improve operational efficiency, and enhance security.

Protecting health and safety of staff

In any industrial setting, protecting the health and safety of staff is crucial. This is particularly the case in hazardous areas, where the risks posed are far greater.

By integrating network audio as part of your wider surveillance network, you can improve the safety of your premises. This is effective when combining your explosion-protected horn speaker with an explosion-protected thermometric camera or visual camera with analytics. For example, if the camera were to detect smoke, or missing protective equipment, your network horn speaker can be automatically or manually triggered to play a prerecorded message to alert personnel.

With built-in zoning features, you can also update specified zones with scheduled messages without notifying all staff members. In hazardous areas, you can send safety-related notices to specific, targeted zones and can also ensure urgent messages interrupt scheduled ones.

While network audio is not designed to be used as an emergency or evacuation alarm – certified EVAC systems will continue to take precedent here to ensure the safety of personnel – it can help provide early notification of an issue, such as the presence of smoke or a leak. In these cases, network audio can help warn personnel at an early stage before a situation escalates to an emergency. It can therefore prove invaluable when it comes to mitigating risks and protecting the health and safety of staff.

Optimizing operational efficiency

It’s also important to consider the overall efficiency of operations. Hazardous areas tend to have a limited number of staff working in them. To ensure operations run smoothly, the digital capabilities of network audio can prove useful here.

The ability to integrate network audio with other devices, such as cameras with analytics, comes with a number of benefits. For instance, in response to a system alert such as a notable temperature change for a piece of equipment, a remote operator can issue live instructions directly to the scene. Messages come through loudly and clearly through a horn speaker, even over long distances and in noisy industrial environments, thanks to the design of the hardware and its built-in digital signal processing.

You can also use network audio to notify personnel of detected anomalies, which can improve efficiencies. As cameras can detect an anomaly or error almost as soon as it appears, it can be quickly and efficiently corrected by on-site personnel, therefore saving your business time and costs. But of course, an anomaly at a sawmill looks dramatically different from one at a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, or one at an automobile manufacturer. As a result, anomaly detection requires custom analytics and involves training an algorithm on what’s normal and not normal for your specific use case.

Cameras with embedded analytics can detect anomalies and send an alert, resulting in either an automated or manual response, depending on the scenario. By integrating the camera with the industrial control system, you can create an automated response to, for example, shut down production immediately. With the integration of network speakers, your system can trigger an automated audio alert to notify personnel. There is flexibility here, with the option for a manual response by the operator to either halt production, issue a live message, or deploy personnel to the scene.

Enhancing security

While you may install network audio primarily to improve safety and operations in a hazardous area, it can also be useful from a security perspective.

Used as a solution to help protect your premises and any valuable assets you will likely have on site, network audio can provide real value for your business. For instance, cameras enable you to use motion detection and set up zones to identify a potential trespasser from outside of, or within the organization. With integrated network audio, you can automatically or manually issue an alert to deter an intruder from unauthorized access. This can be especially useful when it comes to enhancing security within hazardous areas.

The future of network audio in hazardous areas

Network audio is relatively new to hazardous areas, but the benefits it brings will certainly see it increasingly be implemented to complement existing, analog solutions, to improve health and safety, optimize operational efficiency, and enhance security in the future. 

Explosion-protected speakers

Find out more about our explosion-protected horn speaker here.

Jesper Olavi

Jesper Olavi is Global Product Manager at Axis Communications. He is responsible for establishing the world class portfolio of Axis including explosion-protected cameras and their accessories. After earning a Master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Faculty of Engineering (LTH) in Lund, Jesper joined Axis in 2000 and has ever since worked with product development in various roles. Using the latest technology to improve efficiency and safety in hazardous areas is a strong motivator.

Jesper Olavi
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