The hazardous limits to bringing your own device to the workplace
19 Sep 2019
Sophie Hand of EU Automation, assesses whether personal devices are equipped for hazardous environments and what challenges need to be overcome.
Just 20 years ago, mobile technology was a novelty for most. Fast forward to 2019 and it’s estimated that 62.9 per cent of the global population own a mobile phone. Smartphones, tablets and even smart watches help keep us organised and connected, so much so that our personal devices are making their way into our professional lives.
The term Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was first used in 2009, when Intel recognised that an increasing number of its employees were bringing their own smartphones, tablets and laptops to work and connecting them to the corporate network. Since then, several companies have adopted the policy, including the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Unisys.
A BYOD policy comes with a range of benefits, particularly in relation to productivity. Employees are more familiar with their own devices, which increases ease-of-use, and it also means that time is saved by not having to transfer data between devices. BYOD also lends freedom to the employer’s IT department as it will no longer have to keep a multitude of devices updated.
However, BYOD also has its downfalls. The most obvious is the potential security risk of having outside devices interacting with systems that hold potentially sensitive data. Luckily, IT departments have become well equipped to handle BYOD policies and the increased cyber security risks that they introduce. But, is this policy applicable to harsher environments such as chemical processing plants or machine shops?
We need to solve these challenges before BYOD can become commonplace in hazardous environment
The number of features that modern, smart devices have can be overwhelming. However, durability isn’t always one of them. In a harsh environment a device might potentially be exposed to solvents, acids, dust, metal filings and vibration. If BYOD is to be introduced in these environments, the devices must be protected somehow.
This could be achieved by providing protective cases for the devices. Of course, the cases must allow the device to be accessible whilst still being out of harm’s way. In some of the harshest environments, employees are required to wear thick gloves that are not compatible with most modern devices, which are usually operated using a touch screen.
Another potential issue, specifically in medical or chemical environments, is the increased risk that personal devices pose for cross-contamination. We all know how tempting it can be to check our phone when it’s in our pocket. One absent-minded tap on the touchscreen with a gloved hand could lead to an entire product batch needing to be scrapped.
We need to solve these challenges before BYOD can become commonplace in hazardous environments. Until then, we can rely on traditional technology like industrial PCs to help us along the way.
Sophie Hand is UK country manager at EU Automation