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When Does Tracking Workers Make Sense?

The right system can provide safety, privacy and security, and serve the interests of both a company and its employees.
By John Shoemaker

What works for offshore oil workers is equally important for land-based facilities, including all types of chemical and process industries. If your facility runs periodic evacuation drills, then you can benefit from implementing a proper mustering and tracking system, since it would reduce the time and cost involved in conducting drills, quickly expose process weaknesses and, most important, ensure that you never have to call workers' wives, husbands and children to inform them of a tragic accident at your worksite.

There are also security reasons for tracking workers, to ensure safety and security for all. Zones can be established to be sure that only authorized, qualified personnel are granted entry. Drivers and their vehicles can be monitored to provide visibility of all such traffic on company premises.

Overall, security is a growing concern that businesses need to consider, given the growing potential for theft and other criminal or even terroristic purposes.

What technologies can be used?
Traditionally, photo ID, magnetic stripe and passive proximity RFID cards (with a read range of a few inches) are used to identify and allow workers to pass through checkpoints, gates, doors and so forth. More recently, passive RFID cards are being used much like a highway toll tag to identify a worker within 5 to 10 feet or so of a reader at selected choke points, such as a turnstile.

None of them are effective in tracking workers at longer ranges, however, or during actual emergency situations.

If there is a problem and evacuation alarms go off, the last thing employees will do is stop to swipe or wave their ID cards, or walk in an orderly single file out the door. Forget about magnetic boards and clipboards.

During emergencies, everyone flees to safety through any exit they can find—dock doors or even bathroom windows—some grabbing whatever is close to them. Short-range passive RFID badge systems are simply unsuccessful at tracking personnel during the chaos of an evacuation emergency.

Field experience has proven that long-range active RFID is the only technology that can deliver the use case demanded for personnel evacuation and mustering systems.

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