Telematics expert answers questions to address rising concerns about jobsite safety

As construction deaths continue to comprise a major segment of workplace incidents, it’s important for construction companies to invest in and have a solid understanding of the solutions available to them to reduce accidents on the jobsite and on the road.

With this in mind, Construction Business Owner (CBO) sat down with Mika Majapuro (MM), director of product management and strategy at Teletrac Navman, to get his answers to a few questions and discuss the role of telematics in ensuring safety.

CBO: What are some of the main pressures construction companies face when it comes to balancing safety and productivity?
: Construction is an inherently risky business with a lot of regulations, and abiding by all these regulations (permitting, licensing, building codes) takes time and money. It’s a complex industry to say the least. It’s also one of the most dangerous. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly 5,000 people died in workplace incidents in 2015, and 20 percent of workplace deaths were in the construction industry alone. It takes a concerted effort to prioritize safety—and the industry is looking to new technologies to do so.

Construction companies are also under constant pressures to do more with less—more cycles with fewer workers and vehicles—and speed up project completion times due to increased demands for their services. Balancing production with safety poses a real challenge. In fact, the National Safety Council just released a survey (“Employee Perceptions of Workplace Safety") that found over half of Americans working in construction feel that safety takes a back seat to productivity and completing job tasks. No construction worker should ever have to feel unsafe in the workplace and managers shouldn’t have to sacrifice safety for productivity. There’s no excuse for it when, today, there are so many different safety solutions on the market that can curb the rate of injury. Telematics can help fleets improve safety and productivity in a single solution.

CBO: What are some of the top ways telematics can improve worker safety?
: When people think of telematics, some may not automatically associate it with a safeguard against workplace danger. However, a lot of the key elements that are inherent within a telematics solution generally have an added bonus of reducing both trucking and construction-related accidents. Telematics can support greater productivity for construction fleets while helping companies run safer operations for their employees.

One of the key ways companies can avoid workplace injuries starts with maintenance. Faulty machinery or machinery that isn’t operated correctly can lead to workplace injuries.  That’s where telematics comes in. It can automate vehicle, equipment and asset inspections by alerting workers to maintenance checks or issues well in advance of them becoming problematic in the work environment.               

Apart from protecting workers, it also protects fleets by helping them avoid costly issues down the road. Safety is the most important aspect of a construction project, but it doesn’t have to hurt productivity measures.

In-vehicle cameras can actually capture unsafe work behavior, which in turn provides real-time feeds that allow mangers to course-correct poor driving performance, or improper use of equipment in real-time. Managers can use telematics data and video feeds to better educate drivers about their own bad or dangerous habits, creating more personalized and effective training programs. They can then reward safe driving/operating behavior, incentivizing employees to be more cautious.

Ultimately, even the best workers can make mistakes. In any other job, small mistakes don’t generally have major repercussions. Even big mistakes eventually diminish in urgency. However, when it comes to the construction industry, the smallest error could be fatal for someone.

CBO: What should construction companies and fleets look for when investing in a telematics solution?
: When considering a telematics solution, companies should think about improving safety but also increasing productivity, and should consider a tool that offers both. With regard to driver safety, the best telematics solutions can score driver performance to enable managers to provide better training, analyzing and capturing unsafe work behaviors while employees are on the job.

To avoid worker fatigue for on-road vehicles, companies also need to look for telematics solutions that incorporate in-cab alerts to keep drivers awake. And they should support current and future compliance needs, including the ELD mandate, to ensure drivers are not in violation of hours of service, which also has safety implications. To improve efficiencies, fleets should consider solutions that help drivers complete more jobs in a given day through features like geo-fencing and advanced GPS routing, and those that can track fuel usage to cut back on waste. Last but not least, it’s critical to find a telematics solution that fleets can actually use—one that’s intuitive and does not require an entirely new set of skills.

CBO: What closing thoughts about ensuring safety would you like to share with us?
: Well, it’s really important to remember that construction safety isn’t all about technology or about the people who are in charge of setting safety rules and standards. Construction safety has to start with the employees.

Many companies with low injury rates empower employees by having daily, weekly, monthly and annual meetings around the topic of safety and best practices to ensure safe work environments. The time spent training employees on how to stay safe doesn’t have to be a time consuming, expensive or formal process. For example, a really simple way to enforce safety with employees is to have them brainstorm safety tips ahead of starting a new job or project with each other. Some key questions all employees should be working to answer together are:

  1. What is it that they have to accomplish?
  2. What are the potential risks?
  3. How can risks can be prevented?
  4. What tools are needed to finish the job on time and safely?