Build locations are inherently dangerous, and with conditions changing daily from site-specific changes to weather conditions, it can be difficult to keep workers and contractors safe. In reality, 1061 employees died construction work during 2019. Injuries for the same year were recorded on 79.660 where falls, slips and trips account for more than 30% of all fatal and non-fatal incidents.
Technology-based safety equipment aims to create a safer construction work environment while protecting the overall health of people. Everything from smart wearables to drones and autonomous vehicles to augmented reality will revolutionize the construction industry. The potential is so great that “investments in US-based construction technology start-ups have mushroomed.” 324% to nearly $31. billion“Between 2017 and 2018 alone.”
Despite this, “the construction industry is not necessarily known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology or innovation. It’s generally a status quo industry,” explained Kishan PatelVP of Product at HCSS† He further noted that “safety is the biggest bucket where it’s the greatest room for improvement. It’s also the space where the greatest amount of innovation is happening in that space right now. It’s also the biggest place where a company makes the greatest return.” can achieve on investment.”
Digitization of processes opens the door to advanced technology
The first major technology to transform construction site safety was the ability to digitize processes. The digitization of security audits had a huge impact on the entire sector. Project leaders no longer had to transfer data to Excel spreadsheets and charts, etc. to make connections and interpret trends.
Digitizing safety audits “helps to analyze large amounts of past safety data from previous audits, incidents, accidents, injuries – and with artificial intelligence and all that data it can actually predict where an incident could happen based on the attributes you added to the system such as project size, location, type of equipment used, the experience of the employees on site,” explained Scott AndersCSP, CHST, Safety Director at VCC Construction†
With this information, project managers can identify where incidents are most likely to occur and deploy additional resources to try to prevent an incident. However, digitizing processes is only the beginning of the technology revolution for risk management in construction. The rapid evolution of wearable technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning is enabling the design and development of technology that has the potential to dramatically reduce injuries and fatalities in the workplace.
Technologies disrupting the construction industry
“Over the decades, I’ve seen construction technology evolve from rudimentary endeavors like aluminum safety helmets to highly sophisticated building information modeling, virtual reality workspace simulations, and occupational exoskeletal devices like passive back, shoulder and leg aids,” he said. Steve Jordan, CHST, CSHO, STSCdirector HSE at Flintco†
Below is a brief overview of a some of the technologies are being developed to help manage construction risks:
- Virtual reality – VR is best used in training situations to avoid costly mistakes and the possibility of endangering others. Anders uses backhoe loaders as an example, with new operators usually trained on site. VR allows individuals to train in a variety of situations without ever putting anyone at risk.
- Wearable technology – The evolution of wearable technology for the construction industry is nothing short of astonishing. From smart boots to smart helmets and smart monitors to smartwatches, wearable technology is one of the cheapest ways to integrate advanced security protocols into existing processes.
- drones – Anders also talks about the popularity that drones are gaining as they are extremely useful in assisting with inspections, especially when they need to be done at height. Using drones for inspection can eliminate fall hazards. They are also helpful in identifying hazards and taking aerial photos of job sites to assess progress or address challenges.
- Telemetry Wearables – These are designed to ensure that “the right people are in the right places at the right times for their roles and that they are not exposed to undue risks or interact with hazards that they just don’t need,” explained Ian OuelletteVP Product, Triax Technologies†
And this is just the beginning. Additional technology available includes self-driving equipment, robots, exoskeletons, and more. While future developments will certainly continue to take security to another level.
“I think the future of security technology is starting to break through with the hard-to-reach, how do people do their jobs in their immediate duties or their primary work, right? I’m talking about swinging a hammer. I think that’s where security technology is going. Now it’s about behavioral change with the way people perform their primary tasks and real-time intervention in high-risk situations,” Ouellette continued.
Overcoming resistance to change with a Safety First Mindset
Despite the many safety applications available, there are challenges to introducing technology into the construction industry. First, the upfront investment is significant. Second, there needs to be a mindset shift within the industry – one that embraces the new technology and its potential.
“In some ways, the construction industry has been slow to adopt new safety technologies for the reasons you might expect. Cost can be one factor, and resistance to change is another, the if it ain’t broke, why fix it mentality is especially dangerous when it comes to security. Delaying safety equipment deficiencies and adopting best practices can have disastrous consequences. And the fear of the unknown can hinder progress,” Jordan said.
Despite this, it can be a matter of case studies and evidence that the return on investment is worthwhile, to drive top-level management and stakeholders to bring technology on-site. In addition to protecting employees, contractors and visitors, technology can increase a company’s profitability and make them more attractive to employees, addressing staff shortages.
“An investment in safety lets your future employees and your current employees know that you genuinely care about them and their well-being. It helps reduce unwanted expenses when it comes to fines or employee compensation. It lowers you EMR insurance rates, thus improving your profit margins and running a profitable project. And it shows potential owners that you are a serious partner who is a candidate for future work,” explains Patel.
Culture change is on the horizon
Whenever something new comes into the picture, there is a period of adjustment and a mindset shift that takes place before it becomes commonplace. By nature, people are generally resistant to change. This is no different with the introduction of new technology on construction sites where people’s lives are at stake every day.
However, a study of the American Chamber of Commerce reported that they expected wearable technology to grow from 6% of contractor use in 2018 to 23% in 2021. Clearly, the benefits of using these advanced risk management techniques are growing in popularity. And as it continues to be used in various forms, the technology will be able to show how it can not only help prevent injury and death, but also improve the overall health of workers.
Steve Jordan said it best: “Keeping people safe is a daily activity for everyone, it’s a process with no finish line.” So, what does the future of construction look like? Time will tell.