With the rising popularity of the Internet of Things, AI, augmented reality, virtual reality, and other tech, companies have been exploring connected solutions and the construction industry haven’t been left behind. Startups have come up with solutions that use augmented reality and virtual reality for designing buildings and AI solutions that works with architects and engineers to create complex structures. Over the last decade, the construction industry has seen an explosion of new tech that promises to revolutionize the sector.
Some of this tech was aimed at improving safety at construction sites. They’re used to keep track of workers, avoid accidents, and improve visibility. In this article, we explore some of the top innovations changing construction safety and why construction companies should invest in this tech.
In 2020 alone, there were 1034 fatal injuries on construction sites in the US. There were more than 30,000 injuries that forced the workers to change jobs or have other restrictions. And each of these accidents and injuries is expensive, both for the workers and the companies. A paper from 2002 showed that companies were spending a total of 11.5bn USD per yea for fatal and non-fatal injuries on construction sites.
Even if the injury isn’t severe, the worker will have to see a medical professional, and the company may have to pay for it, along with the pay for the time they were not able to work. And of course, when a worker is not available at the site, productivity takes a hit and the work is slowed down.
The cost increases with the severity of the accident and the injury. The company will have to cover the workers’ medical expenses and compensate for the days lost from work. They may also have to hire new people to replace the injured workers and spend more resources training them.
Construction companies may also face lawsuits in the event of accidents or injuries as well as investigations, penalties, or restrictions from regulatory agencies.
But with better safety technologies, organizations stand to gain a lot from a safety perspective. By reducing accidents, the organization will be able to meet its timelines and complete the work without delay. They can save resources that may otherwise be spent on medical expenses, loss of productivity, and penalties from authorities.
When the organization has a reputation for safety, it will also make it easy for them to hire employees. Improved safety will also lead to better morale among the workers and can improve productivity. According to OSHA studies, there’s a return of $4 to $5 for companies on every dollar they invested into safety.
Here are a couple of recent innovations that companies have adopted to improve construction safety
As you can imagine, site inspection is one of the main applications of drones in construction safety. Site inspections conducted both before and during construction, play a huge role in making the space safe for workers. They are used to plan the construction, understand the lay of the land, and decide how the construction should proceed once it begins. Site inspections can also help identify potential hazards and plan safety measures around them.
Before the construction begins, site inspectors have to study the land profile to understand the requirements a building will need. For example, if a very tall building is being planned and the land is not stable enough, they will have to excavate the land and create a strong foundation. But site inspections themselves can be hazardous; if the land is not stable, or if there are inaccessible sections, it may put the personnel at high risk. But by using a drone, you can carefully inspect the land from a distance without any risks. You can use the drone footage to study the plot in detail later on without having to conduct repeated visits to the area.
Even during the construction process, companies can reduce the number of personnel on the property by using drones for remote inspections. Even with all the precautions, construction sites are still hazardous areas and people who aren’t present there every day may not be aware of the risks.
Hardhats are ubiquitous on all construction sites and are worn by everyone at the location. They protect workers from falling objects and make them visible even when working at night. With today’s technology, hardhats can do a lot more.
There are hardhats that come with fall and impact detection features. If the wearer falls down or their head hits somewhere, the hat will automatically alert the safety officer on duty who can then send assistance to the injured worker. These hardhats often have a panic button and two way communication built-in; if the worker is in trouble - maybe they fell down, maybe they are not feeling well - they can contact the safety team with the press of a button and talk to them easily. Most of them also have a tracking feature with which companies can locate their employees easily in case of an emergency.
SmartCap, a smart hardhat from Australia offers a band that you can attach to your regular hardhat and tracks your brainwaves. The idea is to detect microsleep that occurs when you’re fatigued. Microsleep is dangerous while working, it can severely impair your decision-making abilities and slow your reflexes. These hardhats tracks your brainwaves in real time to detect microsleep and send alerts to a mobile app.
Regular inspections and walkarounds are essential for safety at a construction site. They help maintain safety standards and prevent lapses in processes; they can help detect hazardous conditions, unsafe equipment, workers without proper gear, and other issues that compromises safety in a workplace.
For effective inspections, it’s important to conduct them regularly and cover all the necessary checkpoints. And apps like TargPatrol help safety teams conduct them easily. It helps them plan their walkarounds, create and assign schedules, and keep track of employees during these inspections. It can also ensure that the safety teams have covered all the checkpoints and maintain a digital log of all issues spotted. TargPatrol helps teams streamline their safety practices and maintain standards.
Earlier, inspections were conducted with paper records and checklists. But with this, you can log any safety incidents or issues into a mobile app. By using tags or categories, you can easily spot patterns and develop measures to reduce these issues in the long run. For example, if employees were found working without adequate safety gear on repeated walkarounds, you may have to conduct safety seminars or improve the supply of safety gear. These apps helps streamline the safety walkarounds and make sure they are conducted rigorously and regularly.
Body heat or core body temperature is an indicator of how fatigued someone is or how close they’re to collapsing. A new tech, a vest that monitors core body temperature promises to alert workers and their supervisors when it detects high body temperature. It lets them know when it is okay to work and when they should stop working.
The product is developed by Kenzen, who aims to use these vests to keep workers safe in hot conditions. Besides body heat, the vest also monitors heart rate, skin temperature, and ambient temperature and sends the data in real time to the app. Along with alerts, the app also recommends users drink water or take a rest as appropriate.
Safety boots have been an integral component of workers’ PPE for a long time. They keep workers safe from nails or falling objects hurting their feet. But Intellinium, a company working on smart PPE, has developed a tech that adds more functionality to a safety shoe. The features are fairly straightforward; the product is essentially a pod that you can attach to your safety boots or shoes and comes with fall detection and a panic button. The idea is that even if you have to replace your shoes, you don’t have to throw away all the hardware that makes these features possible. The shoes can also keep track of the worker’s location which their supervisors can use to provide assistance in case of accidents or injuries.
If there was an emergency and all the workers are being called back, the supervisor can do so through the shoes. The product is designed to eliminate false alarms; if they detect a fall, it notifies the user through vibrations and only sends alerts if the user ignores the prompts and confirms the fall.
They are also working on a model in which the hardware comes packed in the shoes and allows the user to communicate with it using their toes.
Smartwatches have made life convenient for all users; they have made it easier for users to stay away from their phone without missing important messages or calls. They also come with a slew of activity and health tracking features which makes them useful for making sure you’re healthy even while you’re working. Most smartwatches have heart rate sensors, SpO2 sensors, and even temperature sensors. Construction workers can use these data to set alerts if any of these parameters exceed a given point.
Some watches can even monitor BP and ECG and sends alerts if it gets any abnormal readings. They can also automatically send alerts if they detect a fall; supervisors can get quick updates if any of their team members had a fall and send assistance on time.
This is a mistake a lot of companies make with new tech; they invest in it, and just see where it takes them. But in most cases, this yields no results, because the initiative was organized without goals. For proper results, you have to look at the pain points - what are the problems with your existing system? What are the issues you need to resolve? And then look into tech that can work for you. If the right tech is not available off the shelf, you can work with a team that can develop the right solution for you, or you can wait until a good one is available. Don’t invest in safety tech because everyone’s doing it.
There are many reasons for this approach; if you go all in, it may be tough to manage the solution. For example, if you invest in smart watches for your entire team, it may be tough to figure out how you can monitor them and how you can turn the insights into actions. And if the initiative fails, if workers are not adopting the tech, you’ll be stuck with a huge loss.
But by starting small, you can learn the problems, you can figure out what works best, and you can actually figure out how to produce value from it. And then you can spread it over the entire organization.
For a safety tech initiative to work out, you need proper goals and you need metrics to measure these goals. The number of people using the new safety tech or the number of active devices may not accurately showcase the ROI. You need metrics that showcase how the new tech is solving the pain points, and how it is keeping people safe.