Despite the significant health and safety issues COVID-19 posed over the past year, some contractors were able to quickly step up to the challenge, get their workers back on the job safely and keep projects moving. These forward-thinking construction firms introduced new safety protocols and relied on Internet of Things (IoT) technology, among others, to help address the unprecedented realities of construction during the pandemic. The companies' practices serve as helpful guidance for the year ahead.
While 2021 looks much more promising thanks to vaccinations, these safety protocols will likely need to continue this year, and perhaps the foreseeable future. Along with personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased hygiene, some new practices and technologies include rapid testing, infrared cameras to detect temperature and UV light technology. IoT systems — consisting of wearable devices that capture data, which is uploaded to the cloud via a network — are playing a critical role in jobsites as well, helping contractors maintain worker health and safety during the pandemic, in addition to meeting project deadlines.
Using Data to Modify Behavior
In the midst of a busy jobsite where tradesmen are coming and going, it’s challenging for workers to focus on their jobs and at the same time, continuously maintain a safe distance from others. Contractors are equipping workers with wearables that generate visual and audio alerts to let them know in real time when they are getting too close to others. This immediate feedback allows them to make adjustments on the spot, and has decreased close contact interactions by as much as 50% within just a few weeks of using the technology.
Since IoT wearables can passively collect data on worker interactions, construction firms are also using this information to train workers and modify behaviors. They are educating workers who have had many close interactions on how to keep safe social distances, which may include modifications on how they do their jobs.
For example, one contractor found that its site supervisors frequently had close, extended interactions with tradesmen across the jobsite. The contractor realized that this behavior significantly increased the risk of virus transmission throughout the site if a supervisor tested positive. To minimize that possibility, site supervisors now conduct most of their conversations by phone.
Reducing Site Congestion
Another way to limit potential exposure is by minimizing worker congestion. In its guidelines for safety practices on jobsites, The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) includes reducing crowds in areas where workers congregate among its recommended safety practices, which also include alternating work schedules and reducing person-to-person meetings.
Contractors are not only using IoT to eliminate lines at check-in by automating the process, but also to identify crowding throughout the site. By using sensors to monitor worker location, site supervisors can pinpoint areas where employees are gathering in groups, such as at hoists or elevators, so they can add more or make other adjustments to address the problem.
Identifying & Containing Exposure
If there is a case of COVID-19, it’s extremely difficult for contractors to conduct manual contact tracing given the number of tradesmen moving around the jobsite throughout the day. They would have to rely on workers’ memories of their movements over a couple of days and whom they might have come into contact with. In addition, it would be difficult for them to name or identify some people given the dozens of subs that can be on site at one time.
Because IoT wearables capture all worker interactions — including duration — and digitally store this information in a dashboard, it automatically generates accurate contact tracing data. Site supervisors can use the data to see all the close contact interactions an infected worker had, and an aggregate amount of time of each interaction over a period of time.
With this information, contractors have been able to quickly and easily identify individuals who may have been exposed and determine the appropriate steps to take. This has enabled them to significantly mitigate and control spread at the jobsite and potentially avoid full project shutdowns, which in some cases could lead to millions of dollars of lost revenue.
While the vaccines portend good news in the long run, unfortunately, now with new strains of rapidly spreading virus, an unprecedented number of cases, and the challenges of vaccinating large portions of the population, COVID-19 still remains front and center for the foreseeable future.
IoT technology helps reduce risk of transmission and provides transparency into close interactions that contractors can use to train workers, modify behavior and reduce crowding. With the combination of best practices and this advanced technology, contractors can help create safer jobsites, keeping workers employed and projects moving forward this year, despite the pandemic.