Building Blocks of Safety: Why Technology is Crucial to Creating Safer Construction Sites

Construction sites are inherently dangerous and with conditions changing daily, from site-specific changes to weather conditions, it can be difficult to keep employees and contractors safe. In reality, 1061 employees died working in construction throughout 2019. Injuries in the same year were recorded at 79,660 with falls, slips and trips accounting for over 30% of all fatal and non-fatal incidents.

Technology-based safety equipment aims to create a safer construction work environment while protecting people’s overall health. Everything from smart wearables to drones and autonomous vehicles to augmented reality are poised to revolutionize the construction industry. The potential is so great that “investment in U.S.-based construction tech startups has proliferated 324% to nearly $31 billion“Between 2017 and 2018 only.”

Despite this, “the construction industry is not necessarily known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology or innovation. It’s usually a status quo industry,” explained Kishan PatelVice President of Products at CSSS. He went on to note that “safety is the biggest bucket where it is the biggest room for improvement. It’s also the space where there’s the most amount of innovation happening in this space right now. It is also the greatest place where a business can get the greatest return 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 has had a huge impact on the entire industry. Project managers no longer needed to transfer data to Excel spreadsheets and charts, etc. to try to make connections and interpret trends.

Digitizing safety audits “helps 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 may occur based on attributes you have added to the system such as project size, location, type of equipment used, experience of employees on site,” explained Scott AndersCSP, CHST, Security Director at VCC Construction.

Having this information gives project managers the ability to identify where incidents are most likely to occur and put additional resources in place to try to prevent an incident. However, the digitization of processes is only the beginning of the technological revolution for construction risk management. Rapid advancements in wearable technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling the design and development of technologies that can significantly reduce workplace injuries and fatalities.

Technologies likely to disrupt the construction industry

“Over the past few decades, I have seen building technology evolve from rudimentary endeavors such as aluminum helmets to highly sophisticated building information modeling, virtual reality workspace simulations and professional exoskeletal devices such as passive back, shoulder and leg support,” said Steve Jordan, CHST, CSHO, STSCHSE Director at Flintco.

Here is a brief overview of a little technology being developed to help manage construction risks:

  • Virtual reality – Virtual reality is best used in training situations to avoid costly mistakes and the possibility of putting others at risk. Anders uses backhoe training as an example in which new operators are usually trained on the job. With virtual reality, individuals can practice in various situations without ever putting anyone in danger.
  • Wearable technology – The evolution of wearable technology for the construction industry is simply amazing. From smart boots to smart helmets and smart monitors to smart watches, wearable technology is one of cheapest ways to integrate advanced security protocols into existing processes.
  • Drone – Anders also talks about the growing popularity of drones as they are extremely useful in assisting with inspections, especially when they need to be carried out at height. Using drones for inspection can eliminate the risk of falling. They are also useful for identifying hazards and taking aerial photos of job sites to note progress or address challenges.
  • Handheld Telemetry Devices – These are designed to ensure that “the right people are in the right places at the right time for their role and that they are not exposed to undue risk or interacting with hazards of which they have no control. just don’t need it,” explained Ian Ouellettevice president of product, Triax Technologies.

And that’s just the beginning. Additional technologies available include autonomous equipment, robots, exoskeletons, and more. While future advancements will continue to take security to another level.

“I think the future of security technology is starting to drill into the hard-to-reach areas, how do people work in their direct tasks or primary jobs, right? I’m talking about throwing a hammer “I think that’s where security technology is going. Now it’s about changing behaviors with how people perform their primary tasks and intervening in real-time in risky situations,” said continued Ouellette.

Overcome resistance to change with a safety mindset

Despite the many safety applications available, introducing the technology into the construction world presents challenges. On the one hand, the initial investment is significant. Second, there needs to be a mindset shift within the industry – a shift that embraces new technology and its potential.

“In some ways, the construction industry has been slow to adopt new safety technologies for the reasons one would expect. Cost can be one factor, and resistance to change another, the mindset if it ain’t broke why fixing it is particularly dangerous when it comes to security. Waiting to remedy safety equipment failures and adopt best practices can have disastrous consequences. And fear of the unknown can hinder progress,” Jordan said.

Despite this, getting senior executives and stakeholders to buy into the introduction of on-premises technology can be a matter of showing them case studies and proof that the return on investment will be worth it. Beyond the safety of employees, contractors and visitors, technology can increase a company’s profitability and make it more attractive to employees who help address staffing shortages.

“An investment in safety tells your potential employees and current employees that you really care about them and their well-being. This helps reduce unwanted expenses for fines or workers’ compensation. It lowers your EMR insurance rates, therefore, improving your profit margins and running a profitable project. And it shows potential owners that you are a serious partner to consider for future work,” Patel explained.

Culture change is on the horizon

Every time something new comes on the scene, there is a period of adjustment and a change of mindset that takes place before it becomes commonplace. By nature, people are generally resistant to change. It’s no different when it comes to bringing new technology to construction sites where people’s lives are under daily threat.

However, a study of United States Chamber of Commerce reported that they expect wearables to grow from 6% of entrepreneurs in 2018 to 23% in 2021. Clearly, the benefits of incorporating these advanced risk management techniques are growing in popularity. And as it continues to be adopted in various forms, the technology will be able to show how it can not only help prevent injuries and fatalities, but also improve the overall health of workers.

Steve Jordan said it best: “Keeping people safe is a daily quest for everyone, it’s a process with no finish line”. So what does the future of construction look like? Only time will tell.