As construction companies seek to make their job sites safer for their employees, technology may be the answer.
Construction companies are adapting in response to events that make this industry one of the most dangerous in the United States.
Implementing new technologies and tools enables construction teams to mitigate risk and comply with regulations. The country’s leading manufacturers are developing technology that improves communication, monitoring, hazard protection, training and incident reporting on construction sites.
This article discusses the importance of construction safety, the most difficult risks to mitigate, and the technology that helps construction companies reduce workplace injuries.
Construction safety is a priority
Construction companies and regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prioritize workplace safety in the construction industry. Safety considerations are key in construction as it is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States
Private sector workers suffered 4,764 fatal injuries in 2020, including 1,008 on construction sites. Business owners and team leaders must prevent the situations that most often cause fatalities. The most common fatal accidents in the construction industry are:
- Falls, trips and slips at a lower level.
- Transportation incidents involving motorized land vehicles on the roads.
- Exposure to harmful substances and environments such as electricity and extreme temperatures.
- Being struck or caught in equipment or objects.
Construction Safety Challenges
Although construction team leaders recognize the most dangerous situations that workers face and the regulations that apply to them, it remains difficult to overcome the obstacles. OSHA reports that construction crews fell short of expectations most often in the following areas in fiscal year 2021:
- Protection against falls
- scaffold bracket
- Fall protection training
- Eye and face protection
Essential security tools and technology
Some of the nation’s leading construction companies are implementing tools and technologies that help them address major security issues. As a result, the past decade has seen a decline in the rates of recordable occupational injuries and illnesses. Where 2010 saw four recordable cases per 100 full-time workers, the rate has dropped to 2.5 in 2021. The following resources enable construction crews to reduce work injury rates.
Environmental hazards such as dust, noxious gases, heat and noise pose various workplace safety issues. Workers can become ill from exposure to air pollutants or extreme temperatures. Excessive noise limits a worker’s ability to notice and avoid a hazard.
Modern sensors allow construction crews to monitor environmental hazards and react before they cause damage. A sensor can assess the environment and provide fast data output so workers have time to leave a hazardous area.
Air quality sensors are an important part of modern building environments. Team leaders use air quality sensors to detect harmful dust and chemical levels.
Sensors even monitor distractions to increase employee alertness. Some construction vehicles have built-in monitoring systems that track head and eye movements. The sensor will alert the crew if operator head and eye movement indicates distraction or fatigue.
Drones allow team leaders to monitor construction sites with greater ease and less risk. A drone can fly quickly around a sprawling construction site or quickly reach the top floor of a multi-story building.
Construction leaders are using drones to advance safety in several key ways.
On the one hand, they equip drones with cameras to monitor construction sites. A camera-equipped drone can inspect a job site for hazards before officials deploy workers, then monitor safety performance as work unfolds. A drone may also feature sensors that detect overhead hazards before or during work.
Improvements in surveillance facilitated by drones allow team leaders to maintain safer job sites.
A wearable is any type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects the body from hazardous materials and environments. Modern innovations have expanded the protective capabilities of wearable PPE.
Today’s construction crews use smart wearables complemented by digital tools that monitor the wearer and notify crew leaders of any issues. Manufacturers are adapting smart clothing to improve safety by meeting specific workplace needs.
Smart clothes can be a vest or a watch with a sensor that tracks the wearer’s vital signs. Some smart vests have an inflatable cushion that activates during a fall. A smart helmet may have sensors that monitor air quality and detect toxic gases.
4. Mobile tools
Construction crews operate at a new location for each job. Mobile technology allows them to take their technology to any site.
Today, construction crews can upload schematics, checklists, permits, instructions, and safety information to mobile devices. Each crew member carries vital security information in their pocket to access and share on the go. Increased access to safety information helps prevent dangerous incidents.
Mobile technology also helps crews react when an incident occurs. Workers can submit an instant report after an incident so management can dispatch emergency teams.
5. Remote control equipment
When operating heavy equipment in a hazardous area, workers are safer the further away they are from the situation. Remote-controlled equipment allows workers to perform tasks at a safe distance from hazards.
Major equipment manufacturers are integrating remote control hardware to improve workplace safety. There are two types of remote control hardware for construction equipment: remote and onsite.
Remote hardware uses high-speed data connectivity to link operator and equipment from a remote control center. Alternatively, the site’s online connectivity allows workers to operate machines remotely while remaining on site.
6. Virtual and augmented reality
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) offer unique enhancements to training programs. These technologies bridge the gap between theoretical studies and practical applications so that trainees can simulate hazardous tasks without risk.
Virtual reality is a computer simulation that reproduces a three-dimensional environment. By wearing VR glasses, trainees will enter a virtual world where they can attempt dangerous tasks in real time.
Where virtual reality creates a digital environment from scratch, augmented reality adds to the existing environment. The AR glasses establish a digital overlay on the trainee’s physical environment. During AR training, a worker can sit in the cabin of a machine and operate its controls in response to digital stimuli that the AR device projects onto the real world.
The influence of technology on safety and the rationalization of construction
As one of the industries with the most fatalities in the United States, the construction industry institutes policies and implements technologies that attempt to reduce risk. Digital monitoring, communication, reporting and training tools have helped construction companies reduce injury rates between 2010 and 2020. Tools such as sensors, remote monitoring equipment, mobile devices and smart clothing will continue to advance construction safety in the future.
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