Zistos Applies New Technology To Help Reduce Confined Space Entry Accidents

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) introduced the first regulation that protected personnel who work in confined spaces in 1993. Since then, we have come a long way in keeping confined space workers safe but until the number of fatalities from confined space accidents is at zero, there is still room for improvement.

According to a NIOSH study out of the 100 deaths investigated, the main reasons workers entered a confined space were to perform their work functions of routine maintenance, repairs and inspections. Most maintenance/repair operations start by visually inspecting conditions. We design the ZistosHD Tanker Inspection system to reduce the need to enter a confined space, such as a tanker truck, hopper, vault, or rail tanker. It accomplishes this by allowing an individual to make a visual assessment of the interior of the space without the need to enter. The ability to inspect these locations without the need to enter the confined space makes this phase of the process safer and more efficient.

The system (Part #: HDTI-5AR-TIP6-3.5Z), has a self-illuminating color camera head that features a 30X optical zoom. The camera head is attached to a telescopic pole which sits on the man-way and extends down into the confined space and can wirelessly send the video images onto a 5-inch, (optional 10-inch), tablet display. The inspection system can transmit video to off-site personnel and viewed remotely in real-time. In addition, it can capture the images on an SD memory card as still images (jpg), or motion video in 1080P resolution (mp4). The captured images can be stored on a computer for future reference or included in maintenance inspection reports.

OSHA specifies in regulations 1926.1209(e), that if an individual enters into a confined space, (the entrant), that there must be an individual who remains outside of the space, (the attendant), and is specifically tasked with ensuring that the entrant is not in duress. It is the responsibility of the attendant to maintain continuous communication with the entrant.  There is no OSHA mandated procedure on HOW to communicate with the entrant, just that it must be continuous and provided by the employer. Every company has its own method for communication between the entrant and attendant, and it can be as simple as knocking on the side of the tank and listening for a response, but there is no set rule. Camera technology can play a role to increase safety here as well. If following the visual inspection of the confined space it is determined necessary to enter, then the same video inspection system can assist. The OSHA mandated attendant can utilize it to visually monitor the status of the entrant from outside of the space via the video image.

In addition to the video based visual assessment of the entrant, the system also has listen/talk-back capabilities. This facilitates audible communication between the entrant and attendant, and both video and audio can be recorded. Providing a means for the outside attendant to visually confirm the well-being of the entrant and verbally communicate with them makes going into a confined space safer.

Stay safe by using the ZistosHD Tanker Inspection System to inspect the entire interior of a confined space from outside the space. If a confined space entry is unavoidable, keep safe by using this same system as an entrant monitor with live video and two-way audio communication.

Thermal Imagers: ZistosHD Dual Mode Thermal Camera vs Thermal Fusion Technology

Thermal cameras have come a long way since 1929 when the first infrared-sensitive camera was invented.  This new technology was initially considered exotic and it was expensive. In the last few years, the cost of thermal imaging technology has come down significantly, although thermal imagers with reasonable image resolution can still be pricey. Thermal fusion cameras, that utilize very low-resolution thermal sensors (80×60), which are enhanced by blending in a standard video signal, can be very inexpensive when compared to medium to high resolution thermal imagers. In certain applications the performance and suitability of images that utilizing thermal fusion can be questionable.

Thermal fusion is achieved when an image from a standard video camera is layered on top of an image from a low-resolution thermal sensor. This produces an image that depicts a black & white or colorized visualization of an object in the field of view of the thermal sensor that is outlined with an edge created from the standard video camera. The two cameras work in conjunction to give you a crude thermal image with enhanced edges. When used in this manner, the low resolution thermal fusion can produce a reasonable and usable thermal image. There are many applications where this approach is effective. It is useful in applications such as inspecting breaker panels, steam pipes, machinery, engines and other inspection applications where there is sufficient light for the standard video camera to produce a good image that can be utilized in the blending process. It also helps to know what you are looking at in advance, this is not always the case in many thermal imaging applications.

Image shows Thermal Fusion under perfect conditions

The shortcomings of this approach occur when the standard video camera that is producing the edge enhancement overlay on the thermal image doesn’t have enough light to create its outline. The image produced by the thermal fusion camera is now significantly compromised and may be of minimal value. Without the outlined overlay from the standard video camera, the thermal image has such low resolution that the image ends up looking like blotches of ill-defined color.  The image may not convey enough detail to make an accurate assessment of individuals and environment. When thermal fusion is utilized in tactical or victim location applications, you may not always have enough illumination for the standard video camera to produce a reasonable image. Additional external IR or white light illuminators will help, but they still might not deliver adequate illumination in all cases. This means that you may not be able to differentiate a partial or even full image of a human, from the background environment.

Image shows Thermal Fusion without enough light to produce outlines

The ZistosHD Dual Mode Thermal Camera (THC-51D-HD) allows the operator to instantly toggle between a 320×256 resolution thermal video camera and a 640×480 resolution, low-light, standard B&W video camera. The B&W video camera also has built in IR illumination that can further assist in low light conditions. Instead of overlaying an outline on top of a low-resolution thermal image, we use a higher resolution thermal camera in the same housing and an even higher resolution B&W low-light camera to switch between the two different images. We believe this construction is superior to thermal fusion for the following reasons.

Images show THC-51D-HD in both Thermal Mode & B&W IR Mode
  • The higher resolution thermal image produces a usable image without the need of any enhancement.
  • The secondary low-light B&W standard video camera can produce a video image that can convey additional visual details of the subject and environment.
  • In the THC-51D-HD, the Thermal and B&W IR Cameras are in the same housing. Therefore, there is no need to switch camera heads. It’s all done with system controls.
  • If the standard video camera in the thermal fusion process does not have enough light to produce a usable image the result is an extremely low-resolution thermal image which can be of limited value.
Left, Thermal Fusion Camera without enough light to produce outlines. Right, ZistosHD Dual Mode Thermal Camera in Thermal Mode in the same conditions.
  • The THC-51D-HD camera’s thermal mode can provide thermal detail regardless of ambient light levels.

All in all, despite thermal fusion being available as a new and low-cost thermal technology it may not be suitable as an imaging tool for many tactical and victim location/rescue missions, or any application where you can’t count on adequate illumination for the standard video camera to function. A higher resolution, standalone thermal image, such as the images produced by the ZistosHD THC-51D-HD camera, will in many instances be of more value than an image produced using a thermal fusion camera.