Elizabeth Manning is the managing editor of Construction Business Owner magazine.
6 questions exploring the direction of wearable safety technology on the jobsite
With technology being constantly integrated into every aspect of our daily lives—vehicles, wristwatches, TV remotes, refrigerators—it was only a matter of time before it reached the construction jobsite. The “internet of things” (IoT) and its capability to send and receive information to and from objects and device is on the rise across a number of industries, and has forged its way to construction alongside support from younger generations of construction professionals.
To keep a closer an eye on this trend, CBO spoke with Chad Hollingsworth, CEO and co-founder of construction jobsite safety and communications provider Triax Technologies, to explore the challenges in bringing innovative wearable technology to construction environments. Read below for his perspective on the capabilities of wearable tech and the processes involved in implementing it across on a typical construction jobsite.
1. Can you tell us about the involvement of Triax Technologies in the construction industry?
There are few industries as exciting—or ripe for disruption—as construction right now. Jobsites are complex and chaotic environments with changing structures and equipment, and scalable tech solutions have remained out of reach until recently. This lack of technology has presented itself in two key ways on the jobsite:
- A lack of real-time visibility—Automatically knowing who is on your jobsite and where they’re located
- A lack of real-time tools to communicate site, personnel and safety information
When we first got into the industry, we were surprised by how many construction firms rely on manual headcounts, visual safety checks, paper logs and data double-entry, and we recognized an opportunity to apply smart technology to tackle some of these key safety, productivity and risk management challenges. Our non-GPS mesh network blankets a construction site and automatically connects to the wearable devices worn on each worker’s waist belt. By connecting the jobsite with minimal network infrastructure, we’re able to collect and tap into a lot of powerful, previously unavailable information.
2. What is the most beneficial aspect of wearables on a construction jobsite?
The automatic, accurate, real-time workforce data and the real-time response it enables.
First and foremost, it improves safety. If your workers are wearing a device that detects a slip, trip or fall event and automatically notifies site supervisors, response times improve, overall site safety improves, there is less of a risk for compounding injuries, and there is less of a risk for incidents to slip through the cracks. Real-time data enables an instant data-driven response. If a worker falls from a height and is briefly knocked unconscious, the immediate notification alerts a superintendent, who can go to the given location and ensure that everything is okay. It’s much safer, more efficient, and more precise than waiting for another worker to find the superintendent to report an accident or waiting for them to stumble upon a worker in distress.
Implementing wearables on a construction jobsite also streamlines and standardizes the data collection process. Not only is there a more robust and accurate data set to analyze and utilize on current or future projects, but it also frees up the project manager’s time which was spent walking the site conducting headcounts or safety checks. Knowledge is the first step to effective risk management, and seeing who is on your jobsite for what length of time, where they’re located, and seeing any reported safety incidents forges improved workforce safety and project management.
3. What pushback have you received about integrating IoT and wearable solutions?
On the whole, the feedback from construction business owners—and workers—has been tremendous. Across the industry, we see companies recognizing the value these IoT-enabled devices and wearable solutions offer.
There are always concerns when implementing new technologies, especially in an industry that has done things a certain way for so long. With construction, there are so many competing priorities—budgets, change orders, shifting schedules—that established IT departments and processes aren’t the norm. Part of the process involves finding a champion at the organization, educating them on the system, involving key decision makers and testing the system. There are always concerns about deployment, battery life, privacy, onboarding and support, but we appreciate those questions because it means construction business owners are doing their due diligence. We’re not building technology for the sake of technology; we’re building smart technology that will make a difference for our customers on day one. That’s why it’s so important to work with construction owners and end users to implement their feedback.
4. What is your advice for planning for & implementing wearable solutions on a construction team?
First and foremost, you need to pick a wearable solution that works in the unpredictable construction environment, meaning it needs to be low maintenance and rugged. It can’t add tasks to an already overscheduled day. Beyond that, the smoothest implementations occur when different departments, particularly end users, are involved early on so they can test and think through the day-to-day factors that you, as the business owner, may not consider. Rolling out the wearable solution on smaller projects before going company-wide also provides an opportunity to identify potential sources of confusion and refine the on-boarding process.
In our experience, the most successful wearable solutions also provide value for the end user. With our product, Spot-r, workers want to know this is a non-GPS solution that doesn’t know where they go when they’re off-site. They want to know it send alerts if they fall off a ladder, or worse, down an elevator shaft in a remote part of the project and can’t call for help. Some workers even want to know that if they become ill on-site, they can push the self-alert button and get help. If your team doesn’t see tangible benefits, implementation will always be an issue.
5. How can business owners use these solutions to better find top talent?
Construction is facing an interesting dilemma right now. Construction activity is high, but the availability of skilled labor is low, a fact that becomes particularly significant when you consider the aging workforce and the lack of millennials entering the construction trades. As digital natives, younger workers have come to expect technology in their workplace; they see IoT and wearable devices as the first and surest solution to operational, financial, safety, and cultural challenges. Top talent wants an innovative, forward-looking organization that identifies problems or pain points and applies creative, tech-enabled thinking to solve them. Leading contractors are responding by establishing formal innovation strategies for identifying, testing and implementing the latest technologies.
6. Tell us about the construction companies you have worked with thus far. Can you share a success story?
The investment and attention on construction technologies right now is tremendous, and what’s exciting for us is that we’re starting to see construction business owners, project managers or workers ask for this technology by name.
Lettire Construction’s 205,000-square-foot, 12-story project in New York City is a good example of the complex construction environment, with hundreds of workers completing various tasks in disparate and sometimes isolated areas. Lettire is the first New York City contractor to implement the Spot-r system on its jobsite. By using 140 Spot-r wearable clips, managers on-site are connected to workers and now have total digital worksite visibility, improved communication and enhanced safety. Spot-r also helps Lettire adhere to city jobsite compliance regulations, streamline evacuation procedures and take a more proactive, data-driven approach to risk management.