World-first technology to keep people safe in highly hazardous environments has been developed by two West Cumbrian companies.

Teams from REACT Engineering, based in Cleator Moor, and Createc, based in Cockermouth, worked remotely during the Covid-19 lockdown to complete a pioneering system.

ALARP Angel software allows a task to be defined, planned, rehearsed and executed in highly hazardous environments.

Developed over 12 months, the software allows firms to map out the work environment before it starts, train workers in virtual reality and if appropriate in mocked-up environments, plus monitor the job in real-time. .

The firms said ALARP Angel can be modified to be used in several scenarios in a range of industries.

It can independently track multiple operators in a busy environment using Createc’s SLATE technology developed for the Ministry of Defence and track operators at any working height.

The technology has been developed through a Small Business Research Initiative to protect nuclear decommissioning operators.

The competition, organised by Innovate UK and funded by Sellafield Ltd, was run in two stages. The final stage will be concluded after the lockdown.

Five team members from REACT Engineering and seven from Createc worked on the programme as a combined team.

Chris Woolhouse of REACT Engineering, led the project.

He said: “The funded competition gave the two companies the opportunity to collaborate and use the skills and expertise within both companies to develop this technology.

“The focus of ALARP Angel was to create a platform for managing tasks and easily link different technologies throughout the lifecycle of that task.

“We also wanted to make sure we used flexible technology which is just as applicable in other industries, such as oil and gas, nuclear decommissioning, military, or any emergency response where individuals are at risk from potential hazards.

“With the live real-time monitoring, using the connected operator principle taken from the military, a supervisor is able to see inside the environment and inform the operator to ensure they stay safe from any changes which occur.

“Because the operator has been able to use VR and mock-up environments to rehearse how they will work in the space, any new information in the live environment is kept to a minimum.

"Wearable technology means they can also have simple, easy-to-follow, and well-rehearsed instructions of how to carry out the task on their devices.”

David Clark, Createc’s operations director, added: “Through characterisation, planning and training, the ALARP Angel software enables people to work in a way which minimises risk and optimises efficiency of carrying out tasks.

“It’s about planning tasks and training people to carry out those tasks in a way which is safer, faster and cheaper.

“By using VR technology within the system operators are able to experience the environment and ‘see’ the hazards and rehearse them and learn how best to move around that space.

“It also allows you to train for a series of ‘what if’ scenarios, by rehearsing for different events, so operators are fully trained and able to respond effectively to a range of changing situations without the need to enter the hazardous environment until they are carrying out the task.

“When the task is being carried out, the live real-time monitoring allows operators to be tracked around a facility.

“In a civil nuclear environment ALARP Angel means operators minimise dose time and execute the task in the most efficient way possible.”

The Covid-19 outbreak meant the programme needed to be completed after lockdown, which created an extra challenge.

Chris said: “With everyone self-isolating we had to complete the testing and demonstrating in lockdown while working from home.

“Because both teams work on projects all over the world we are used to using the latest technology to work remotely and we actually finished the final phase ahead of schedule, which is very satisfying."