A look at the solutions reducing danger & driving safety forward
by Matthew Ramage
October 29, 2019

As projects become even more manifold, the number of workers, equipment and materials that need to be tracked and managed increases. Under pressure to deliver work on time and within budget, safety can often become compromised. At the same time, the global worker shortage has made it difficult to adequately staff jobsites.

A recent Dodge Data & Analytics study reported that four out of five contractors are at least moderately concerned about the safety risks created by workforce shortages. A combination of tight project timeframes and lack of skilled labor often leads to crews working longer hours or taking on additional work that might fall outside of their skill set, thus increasing the risk of incident.

As such, a growing number of construction companies are embracing technologies that can help make construction jobsites safer, more desirable places to work. A combination of hardware and software technology solutions are helping drive automation and data sharing across the jobsite. From smart sensors and drones to software that connects workers in the office and the field, technology is simplifying the daunting task of keeping workers safe, while also ensuring compliance and increasing security. The following are nine examples.

1. Jobsite Access

Ensuring workers are authorized for the construction area they’re entering is critical for jobsite safety. Without proper access control, workers risk unintentionally entering a space that poses any number of health threats. Chemical exposure, hearing damage, head injuries or worse can occur when a worker enters an area without the correct safety equipment. 

Using technology to manage access allows companies to more easily monitor who is entering and exiting the jobsite, and to not only secure access to workers who are authorized to be there, but to also customize entry to a jobsite based on criteria, such as signed nondisclosure agreements, passed drug tests, background screens and current licenses.

2. Emergency Response

In the event of an emergency, labor management technology can broadcast text alerts with details about the check-in point and track which workers have reported to the rally site. These solutions also provide instant access to contact information and last-known location for each worker on-site, so headcounts are fast and accurate. 

Bluetooth positioning and labor management technology can identify unresponsive or unconscious workers and provide relevant health and personal records, as well as emergency contact information, in seconds. On larger projects, general contractors are staffing full-time paramedics on-site for faster emergency response and using location tracking to quickly locate injured workers. 

3. Machine Control

Grade control technology is helping improve safety for site preparation and civil construction projects by drastically reducing the need for employees to work on the ground near heavy equipment on an active jobsite. With grade control on dozers, excavators, motor graders, pavers and other types of heavy equipment, the operator can verify that the machine is working to plan, without the need to pound stakes, move string lines and measure as they go. This also reduces the need to place workers in deep holes and trenches, on unstable hillsides, and in other dangerous situations on-site.

4. Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons, metal frameworks fitted with motorized muscles to multiply the wearer’s strength, are also helping make the construction site a safer place. Also called an “exosuit,” the robotic suit’s metal framework somewhat mirrors the wearer’s internal skeletal structure, making heavy objects feel much lighter, and sometimes even weightless. Worker overexertion costs United States employers around $15 billion annually in compensation, and many think that exoskeletons will make workers less prone to injuries from accidents or overwork.

5. Smart Sensors

From temperature to noise levels and hazardous fumes, smart sensors are being used to monitor environmental conditions on the jobsite and prevent dangerous exposure to the elements. These sensors collect and analyze data to identify areas of a jobsite that pose a safety risk. In conjunction with labor management software, this information can be used to alert safety managers and others to dangers on a construction site in real time.

6. Safety Tracking & Reporting

Today’s software solutions for construction management are more sophisticated than ever before and can help provide a better picture of a company’s overall health and productivity. Real-time safety updates regarding weather conditions, heat indexes, road closures or anything else that might impact the health and welfare of workers, can be shared with workers in the field. 

Cloud-based construction software has become the single point of truth for project data by seamlessly integrating the systems that track safety efforts, incident reports, safety checklists and feedback with a company’s accounting, financial management and project operations. As such, contractors can keep closer tabs on safety incidents, trends and the overall impact of both on the company. 

7. Mixed Reality

Mixed-reality (MR) technology blends real-world objects with digital content interactively and in real time. Together with holographic technology, it brings 3D models off the screen and helps people efficiently interpret physical and digital information, as well as the spatial relations between them. 

New, wearable, hard-hat-compatible devices enable workers in safety-controlled environments to access this holographic information on the worksite. MR is transforming the construction industry by improving the understanding and communication of complex spatial conditions through a truly immersive experience.

8. Off-site Prefabrication

The ability to integrate information and share accurate data in real time has made off-site prefabrication more practical and cost effective. This approach allows workers to perform complex tasks off-site in a safe, controlled environment and reduces the amount of extra equipment and materials on the jobsite that can create safety hazards.

9. Drones

Once a technology commonly associated with the military, drones have become widely recognizable across multiple industries, including construction. Although there are many ways drones are being used on construction sites today, they are especially useful when areas of a jobsite appear to pose a risk. 

Drones can fly in and perform inspections, spending less time on the job than a crew member. Some include preprogrammed flight paths, which can be repeated weekly, daily or monthly, depending on the complexity of the project. This allows for the monitoring of dangerous sites remotely and on-demand, making way for preventive site maintenance and ensuring safety standards are maintained.

In addition to these new technologies, a constructible process that combines design, project management and engineering models into a collaboration- and data-rich platform, can lead to safer and smarter jobsites. In an efficient constructible process, all project phases and trades are connected and able to collaborate in real time.