Recently, a 48-year old man was crushed by falling rebar at a construction site. This accident is an example of the “Fatal Four” that is the cause of over half of the deaths of construction workers: falls, electrocutions, struck by an object, and caught in/between. The “Fatal Four” can be a thing of the past with today’s technologies.
Construction technology has evolved since hard hats and protective glasses. Today, big data, tech genius, and construction collide, resulting in a safer working environment for construction workers. We are going to explore the top five construction technologies to keep construction workers safe on the job.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), construction workers are 16% more likely to have a work-related musculoskeletal disorder than all industries combined. Exoskeletons make construction workers Iron Man. Well, not completely, but close. They come in two different forms: power assist and unpowered. Power assist use sensors and motors to help construction personnel lift heavier objects and work longer than they could have without. That is the Iron Man version.
The unpowered exoskeletons improve posture and use counterweights to redistribute weight. They take strain off the body and help workers maintain a healthier body while completing strenuous work. Exoskeletons aren’t just used in construction.
From Navy Seals to physical therapy patients – exoskeletons can be used across multiple industries. They can even help teach stroke patients how to walk again. Ekso Bionics is a company focused on building exoskeleton for the construction industry. Eventually, the company plans on building exo-arms with tool attachments.
2. Virtual reality
Virtual reality in construction safety training is taking off. Bechtel Construction, one of the biggest names in the business, recently launched a virtual reality safety training program. It uses software to replicate the construction site, allowing construction worker trainees to interact with the environment. Gammon Construction has been using virtual reality to train workers in safety and have found that trainees are more engaged. It has resulted in a lowered rate of safety incidents in the field. Texas Mutual has a free virtual reality safety app with 360-degree safety training videos.
BIM360 has taken virtual reality beyond safety. They created a DAQRI Smart Helmet that allows superintendents and designers to walk around the job site with smart glasses and step into their drawings with augmented reality. They can see potential obstacles and fix it before losing money on the job.
While VR training is pricey to initiate, it will cost less over time. The cost of training with real equipment will cost far more than with an augmented reality or virtual reality space.
Construction wearables are designed to eliminate the “Fatal Four.” Falls, struck-bys, electrocution, and caught in/betweens are major causes of concern in the construction industry. Human Condition – used by Bechtel, Turner, and Clark – has created a smart safety vest and hard hat that has sensors, GPS, real time locating, and more. Solar and kinetic energy charges the equipment.
This smart personal protective equipment (PPE) can sense if the air particulates are toxic, it has an air bag in case there is a fall, and if someone goes missing – they can be found. The CEO of Human Condition Safety Peter E. Raymond said, “We built Human Condition Safety to really help the serious issue of construction workers being injured and killed on job sites. It just feels like such an old problem that needs to be addressed, and we’re aiming, by 2025, to eliminate deaths on job sites globally.”
Wearables come in several different forms. From watches that have body monitoring and GPS to work boots that monitor for falls, worker fatigue, and more.
Much like the other technologies on this list, wearables are also used in the medical field. Human Condition started their wearables by creating wearable sensors and transducers that simulate the symptoms of heart failure or multiple sclerosis to help doctors feel more empathy with patients.
4. Site sensors
Smart sensors are mounted throughout a job site, and they are constantly testing the air to ensure that it is safe. If asbestos or another toxin is at a dangerous level, the sensor will inform the workers. They can evacuate before serious harm can be done.
Site sensors are useful on many levels. They keep workers safe, reduce costs, and predict maintenance needs by collecting data and analyzing it to make predictions. Pillar Technologies has created smart sensors that give real-time alerts and long-term analysis of risk levels at job sites. The data also goes to job site managers, foreman, and superintendents. They can see if temperatures are rising, and prevent a construction site fire from getting out of control. They can also see if humidity levels are increasing, which will indicate if a leak has sprung.
Site sensors keep job sites safe and help managers mitigate issues before they become major problems.
Drones are used at construction sites to inspect the area, look for hazards, and monitor workers. F.E. Moran recently started using drones to assist the safety department in keeping workers safe.
Jason Galoozis, the Safety Director said, “Drones will play a critical part in future safety inspections at F.E. Moran. Drones can eliminate the need for company employees or the safety team to conduct high risk pre-project start inspections on elevated surfaces. These elevated surfaces could be older or abandoned structures which could pose serious hazards to our employees.”
Added benefits of drone usage is tracking project progress by using aerial images and mapping as well as marketing videos. By tracking project progress via drones, project managers can track real-time productivity, which could help in estimating more accurately on future projects.
OSHA reported that 21% of workplace fatalities is in the construction field. What if we could reduce this to zero? By using smart technology such as exoskeletons, virtual reality training, wearables, site sensors, and drones, construction workers can be safer on the job and make it home to their families at the end of the day.
About the author: Sarah Noel Block is the Director of Marketing & Education for The Moran Group. The Moran Group, based in Northbrook, IL, provides HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection design/build and inspection/testing/maintenance services for commercial, residential, industrial, and government properties.