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Concrete producers understand the importance of keeping good records, especially when safety is involved, but few relish the thought of the additional paperwork this brings. One manufacturer is making it easier to track the location and condition of your fall protection equipment, without the additional reams of paper, by incorporating radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

DBI-SALA's i-Safe system tracks inventory and inspection status of safety equipment. It uses passive RFID tags sewn into its fall protection harnesses and other equipment to store identification and status information about each device, including its unique serial number, date of last inspection, and condition.

The company is now including RFID tags on all of its new fall protection harnesses, and the technology will be standard on all of its equipment by the end of the year. A kit is available for retrofitting older equipment as well as equipment from other manufacturers.

Although an RFID system is similar to a barcode system, there are several important differences. First, the RFID tags go beyond being simply a label: They store data, which can also be updated by the reader. Also, because the system uses radio frequency signals rather than relying on optical readings, the data exchange can be made in conditions where barcodes cannot be read.

Also, the RFID tag does not have to be on the surface, which means it is not subject to wear. The read time is much faster than for barcodes, and many items can be read at once, rather than having to slowly scan item by item. RFID systems also are very robust and reliable.

Field data

But the tags are only one component of the i-Safe system. It also uses a personal digital assistant (PDA) to read and write data in the field and a Web portal to view and manage records.

As the PDA gathers information in the field, it identifies each piece of equipment by the unique number stored in the RFID tag. A single scan records and updates inspection information, assignment by worker or location, and other data that you have specified.

The data is then linked from the PDA or laptop computer to a customized Web portal set up and hosted by DBI-SALA professional safety and information management consultants. That information is instantly available on the Internet, as well as access to related safety and equipment information, training records, and product advisories.

For example, you are notified when a piece of equipment is due for inspection, and you can also view product-specific inspection instructions. Because inspection results are logged immediately, your documentation is always up-to-date.

In addition to keeping your “paperwork” trail nice and tidy, this system also reassures field personnel that the equipment they are using has been properly inspected and is safe to use. And because retrofit tags can be applied to existing equipment, that secure feeling doesn't have to be limited to just your newest equipment.

DBI-SALA is a brand of Capital Safety, which designs and manufacturers height safety and fall protection equipment. For more information, visit www.capitalsafety.com.