Technologies to save lives & reduce injury & risk in vehicle-related accidents
by Matt Wood

As Construction Business Owner noted in its January 2016 issue, United States residential and commercial construction combined is expected to grow from 5 to 9 percent in 2016, and heavy infrastructure spending is expected to grow approximately 8 percent from $312.6 billion in 2015. Not exactly a boom, but not a bust either. Given these growth predictions, now is a good time for construction companies to look for ways to operate more efficiently. As it has in other industries, new technology has a lot to offer in this regard.

Coming Soon: ADAS

Vehicle safety is one of the major concerns of all construction companies. Those who have driven a car manufactured in the last couple of years have seen for themselves how far vehicle safety has evolved. Developments in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have brought adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, proximity information, heads-up displays, rear backing safety and active noise cancellation—and this is only the beginning. Companies that develop safety technologies specifically for construction equipment are working hard to adapt this technology and improve the capabilities of existing proximity detection systems. The goal of all these technologies, of course, is to eliminate injury and death to workers and to protect some very expensive property.

Construction Sites are Trickier than Highways

Many people in the construction industry wonder why it is taking so long to get the adaptive safety technology that comes standard with most passenger cars inside heavy-duty vehicles. Besides the fact that most of these vehicles roll on wheels, there are very few similarities between them. Unlike passenger vehicles that spend most of their time driving forward in well-marked lanes, construction machinery can and does drive virtually anywhere. Construction equipment spends as much time in reverse as going forward. These machines are driven through dirty worksites and extreme weather conditions, and are routinely cleaned with high-pressure steam washers. They operate in high noise and vibration environments. Many pieces of equipment like haul trucks and wheel loaders can dwarf passenger vehicles. Additionally, nearly all construction machines have significant blind zones. Workers can be anywhere on the jobsite and, in many cases, they will be working in and around these blind zones.

Technology Creates a More Efficient Safety Baseline

Even as this new technology makes its way into the construction industry, construction business professionals need to demand new baseline standards for safety solutions. Technology now available can dramatically reduce accidents and human injury and death. For that reason, safety technology now being installed on construction equipment should, at a minimum, be able to:

  1. Function in harsh environments without failure. Mechanical and electrical hardening techniques already in existence make this baseline achievable.
  2. Detect all human beings within proximity of equipment—whether they are moving or stationary. Sensors must detect humans consistently.
  3. Function in environments with high vibration and noise levels. This is critical, given that many collision avoidance systems in passenger vehicles utilize ultrasonic sensors, which can be diminished or defeated by the extreme levels of vibration or noise. This is unacceptable for construction equipment.
  4. Integrate camera vision systems with object detection sensors to deliver “active driver assistance” with both visual and audible alerts.

Mitigate Incidents Involving Humans

Many in construction may assume that all modern object detection systems can meet these baseline standards. Unfortunately, that is not the case. This is especially true with respect to correctly identifying humans in proximity to construction vehicles. Detection systems must be able to identify humans regardless of their posture or clothing, any of which can render them invisible to less accurate detection systems. And many object detection systems do not identify objects within the first 2 or 3 feet.

Solutions Will Come from Inside the Industry

The harsh, chaotic conditions on jobsites create a major challenge for companies that develop advanced safety systems. These solutions will not come from technologies geared toward passenger vehicles. This is a challenge best suited for the manufacturers that live and breathe heavy-duty equipment; manufacturers who have experience building solutions that can withstand the heat, cold, dirt, vibrations and noise of the typical construction jobsite.

Business Owners Are the Leaders in Tech-Driven Safety Market

Many safety solutions that incorporate new technology are available today to be retrofitted on existing construction machines. Making them standard on all new equipment will require action from construction management. At both the retrofit and OEM levels, input is required from construction business owners to drive the adoption of the best possible safety solutions. These considerations include the following:

  • Make it clear to suppliers that you want and will pay for this new construction safety technology. After all, it makes very good business sense to invest an ounce for protection now to avoid a pound of trouble in the near future.
  • Understand that different vehicles will require different configurations—there is no one-size-fits-all solution for safety technology. So ensure the chosen system is configurable to the specific vehicle and application.
  • Consider total cost of ownership over the life of the machine when selecting product. High-quality equipment that lasts the life of the machine will cost less in the long run.
  • Support open technology so construction safety solutions have the ability to integrate with other equipment technologies, such as telematics, data recorders and mobile DVR systems.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

Construction companies have a great deal to gain with the introduction of the new object detection and collision mitigation technologies currently available in passenger cars. It is hard to imagine that someday the very concept of vehicle-related accidents may be a relic of the past. Every step taken as an industry to reduce injury, death and damage will bring many happy returns. New technologies will save lives, reduce injury and risk (and, in some cases, insurance premiums). They will improve driver efficiency, reduce downtime and enable companies to retain valued employees. And, because of all these benefits, they will enable construction companies to improve productivity and profits. With continued industry growth, construction companies can look forward to an increasingly accident-free, efficient and profitable future.