3 Ways Technology Can Improve Construction Job Site Safety
Yes, profits are important—you wouldn’t be in business without them. But as a construction manager, the safety of your workers should be your utmost concern.
And in any event, not ensuring their safety has a major impact on your bottom line. A 2018 Liberty Mutual study found that serious, nonfatal workplace injuries resulted in almost $60 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. Falls alone—the number one cause of injuries and fatalities in construction—amounted to $17.1 billion of that figure.
That’s stressful to think about, but if you’re proactive, there’s no reason to toss and turn at night worrying about what might go wrong. Technological advances have yielded countless ways to make your construction site a safe place to work without requiring a huge expenditure upfront.
Construction companies must focus on technology in three key areas—hardware, software and best practices—in order to reduce the likelihood of a safety incident on their job sites.
There are tremendous costs to construction firms that don’t have a great safety record, including fines, lost work hours and lawsuits. This guide will show you several examples of technology that can limit the number of safety incidents at your job site.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
1. New Hardware Protects Workers From Danger
New hardware doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, what makes this technology so good for small construction businesses is that its cost has come down dramatically in recent years, allowing even those with tight budgets to take advantage of what’s available.
A wearable is a “smart” device that workers wear that collects and transmits data on things like heart rate, location and activity. The data is often transmitted to the cloud where it can be accessed anywhere, including from your office as they work on the job site.
This data can help construction managers make sure employees aren’t overexerting themselves or working in dangerous areas. You might immediately think of products like the Apple Watch, but this term can include boots and vests that are able to detect falls or alert workers to unsafe conditions.
EXAMPLES: SolePower’s Smartboots issue automatic alerts for unsafe environmental conditions and hazards using sensors that can detect temperature, motion and location. And Cat’s Smartband is worn on the wrist to monitor fatigue in workers—which is important because overexertion is the number one cause of disabling U.S. workplace injuries, according to the Liberty Mutual study.
Image 1: SolePower’s Smartboots (Source)
Image 2: Cat’s Smartband (Source)
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, offer a great opportunity for construction managers who want to limit the amount of work that their employees have to do in unsafe areas.
Drones can conduct extensive surveys that not only keep your workers out of harm’s way, but also do it much more cheaply. Drones can also inspect unstable structures or conduct aerial imaging to ensure that OSHA regulations are being met.
For example, some areas in the early stages of construction have difficult topography, a lot of heavy equipment and many areas where a worker could fall and be injured. Using a drone to inspect the site instead of a worker lowers the risk of an incident.
EXAMPLE: Industrial Skyworks uses drones to inspect construction sites and create both 2D and 3D images. The company also uses the drones to gather data and generate detailed reports using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
An example of an image produced by an Industrial Skyworks drone (Source)
DroneDeploy offers drones that are capable of integrating with 3D models created using BIM software, and can identify objects and ground control points automatically while in the air. This allows site managers to measure stockpile volumes or detect dangerous areas, the company says.
TAKE ACTION: Call a meeting with some of your key employees who you know have the most information on safety issues on your job site—specifically, actual safety hazards that they have witnessed that should be addressed, like a worker operating 20 feet off the ground without a harness, or an uneven surface that workers walk on that doesn’t have a railing.
Make a list of safety issues they’ve noticed, and categorize safety incidents you’ve had in the past year based on whether they were caused by fatigue, falls, being struck by an object or any other miscellaneous reason. Determine how you might be able to leverage the technology discussed above gradually as a pilot program to deal with these issues, and set a goal to introduce the new hardware among a few select employees within three months.
Have follow-up meetings throughout the pilot program, during which you will be able to know how well you’re doing: if workers are noticing fewer and fewer safety problems, that’s a sign that you’re on the right track. If you continue to hear about the same problems, it’s a sign that this technology isn’t helping.
2. Anticipate and Avoid Danger With Software
Great hardware is nothing without equally great software. Construction managers have more software options at their disposal to manage the safety of their worksite than ever before. We have 320 options in the construction software directory as of September 2018, and that list is growing constantly.
Construction Management Software
As a construction manager, you must take advantage of software’s ability to gather data and alert you to potential safety issues. Many options in our construction software directory are capable of creating customized reports you can share with your leadership team to keep you on top of safety on your job site.
These reports can pull data that was gathered by your wearables and drones, including data on worker fatigue throughout the day and in certain areas, as well as inspection reports from your drones that highlight unsafe areas on the job site.
EXAMPLE: Construction software Procore allows you to spot safety issues across all projects with data and reporting dashboards. The software can create customized reports that can be shared with the entire team. These reports will alert the team to areas that are not safe due to debris, heavy equipment, unevenness, slippery surfaces and other hazards.
Procore offers a feature that allows a company to attach photos, call logs and inspections to a daily log to ensure that the job site was running in a safe manner.
Construction sites are active places, and people who work on them aren’t confined to a desk. Mobile apps offer a way for on-the-go workers and managers to prevent safety incidents.
Apps have an advantage over typical software because they can be carried in workers’ pockets, alerting a manager immediately to a worker who has fallen or to a hazardous situation that needs to be dealt with.
They can also have safety checklists that your worker must check off before he or she begins work to ensure that the site is safe, which is helpful since workers often don’t have every single procedure memorized.
EXAMPLE: The FallSafety app monitors workers who operate at dangerous heights, sounding an alarm when it detects a fall. This is especially important because falls make up a disproportionate number of construction fatalities.
Another app, iAuditor, ensures that proper procedures are followed by offering a checklist that workers must complete before starting their tasks so workers don’t find themselves in unsafe conditions.
Image 1: The FallSafety app can detect when a worker has fallen and send out an alert (Source)
Image 2: iAuditor can create a checklist for a range of topics, including safety (Source)
TAKE ACTION: Once you’ve settled on an app, create a safety checklist that incorporates all you learned from the team meeting, and have everyone download the app. Your checklist should ensure workers check things like:
Whether all required personal protective equipment such as harnesses and helmets are in use
Whether a site is clean and clear of debris
Whether there are uneven or slippery surfaces
Whether there is heavy equipment in operation in the vicinity
Whether there are electrocution hazards nearby
3. Make Your Safety Investments Worthwhile With These Best Practices
All the technology in the world won’t make your job site a safer place for workers if you don’t have good practices for implementing that technology. You need to have procedures and training in place, or you will have wasted your money on technology that won’t be effective.
OSHA requires that all employees have and use safe tools and equipment, and that the equipment is properly maintained. You’ll need to have documentation on hand that proves this. Also, you should have standard operating procedures documented and communicated to your employees to ensure they are following safety and health requirements.
You can see a full breakdown of what an employer’s responsibilities are at OSHA’s website here.
Construction management software can help you keep your documents in order to ensure they are being compliant with OSHA regulations. Many have a document management feature that is specifically geared toward collecting and organizing documents for easy access.
This is also a good opportunity to improve the documentation you’re doing. Create a documentation policy, with the help of a legal counsel, that will spell out exactly what needs to be documented and when. Put it in writing and train your workers in it. You and your workers should document anything involving contracts, critical conversations, meetings, payments, and insurance certificates.
Your team needs to have open channels of communication, and your workers need to be able to trust that if they relay safety problems to you that you will make it a priority. There are several ways to do that:
Have a regular team meeting where you receive feedback on safety issues from workers.
Use an app that has a direct messaging function so workers can contact you or a site manager directly with a safety concern.
Provide a way for workers to report safety concerns anonymously, either through an app or something as simple as a shoebox and slips of paper—whatever you and your employees are comfortable with.
You must offer training to your workers, both on OSHA regulations and how to use the new technology you acquired. OSHA provides training materials on their website and provides training through authorized education centers, which you can learn more about on the OSHA Directorate of Training and Education portal.
Reach out to your vendor to determine if they offer training on the software or hardware you’re implementing—better yet, ensure that training is part of the package before you buy.
Now’s the Time to Make Your Workplace Safer
There’s always a way to make your construction project safer for your employees, and every moment you waste without implementing new technology to boost safety brings you closer to a potentially devastating safety incident. All you need to do is take a few safety steps to give both you and your employees peace of mind:
Conduct an audit of your construction site with the help of your leadership team and your employees. Find out where safety is most lacking, and what can be done to improve on it.
Consult with your team to determine which technology options mentioned above make the most sense to solve a given safety issue. For example, if the most common safety incident is a fall by a worker who is making an inspection, look into a drone that could do the inspection work instead. Or if overexertion is your number one problem, outfit your team with a wearable that will monitor worker fatigue levels.
Set up a simple and limited pilot program to start implementing this technology within three months. For example, if you’ve decided to buy wearables to monitor fatigue, choose one subset of workers—say, your welders—who will use the wearable for a period of a couple months. Appoint someone to track these workers daily and record data, and then evaluate at the end of the pilot program to see if it makes sense to expand this to your entire crew, or if it doesn’t provide enough tangible benefits.
Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.