Some people believe construction is hazardous, but the truth is that on-site safety has improved considerably. This is not to say the industry does not pose a risk, but it’s much safer than in the past.
One primary reason construction safety has seen such improvement is due to these five technological innovations.
Safety has become a priority in construction. This wasn’t taken as seriously in the past, and there were fewer rules than today. Things have changed drastically since the early 1900s.
For example, many have seen the iconic photo of the 11 construction workers sitting on a beam and eating lunch — known as “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.” While this is a truly mesmerizing photo, it is something you won’t see today.
One catalyst of the improved focus on safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which largely regulates the industry and has drastically reduced the amount of injuries sustained since the agency was introduced in the 1970s.
Most construction companies take safety seriously nowadays and ensure workers are adequately trained for the ever-changing environment they find themselves in. Additionally, many businesses make communication between co-workers a priority. They can point out potential dangers, such as heavy vehicles approaching, to ensure everyone’s safety.
Sensors are another change often seen on more dangerous sites. They offer many advantages, such as scanning air quality for hazardous chemicals that can put workers at risk. Management can then monitor the provided data and inform staff to vacate the premises until the threat is resolved.
Training has evolved a lot since the early days of construction, especially through technology implementation. For example, many workers are now trained with virtual reality equipment.
This training offers many benefits, such as increasing awareness and educating workers on what risk factors they should look out for. Fresh hires often take virtual programs to prepare for their new jobs.
Additionally, augmented reality can teach workers how to operate heavy equipment or machinery. This is completed in a safe environment that poses no risk to the employee.
In addition to preparing workers for what is expected of them, this type of training also aids in increasing team coordination. Organizations using this technology can train their staff to know exactly what to do and how to act before stepping foot on a construction site.
PPE safety gear and other wearables have also increased safety. In the past, items lasted only a short time and quickly became obsolete due to wear and tear. Today, manufacturers use more durable materials in equipment that last longer and offer better protection.
For example, gloves are way more resilient today, offering increased protection from cuts and other abrasions. Many companies also supply their workers with respirators that protect them from dust particles or dangerous chemicals in the air. It is mandatory to wear respirator equipment in high-risk environments.
Many safety protocols have evolved, but the causes of deadly injuries have stayed roughly the same. These are known as the fatal four — falls, electrocution, falling objects and being caught between objects. In 2017, 59.9% of incidents that resulted in death came from the fatal four.
This is why safety gear is so essential in the construction sector. Other wearables besides PPE offer many benefits that can make workers’ jobs easier and protect them from various dangers. For example, smart clothing can check vital signs.
Some of these items can also track a worker’s location. Acting quickly is vital if staff is caught between objects or something has fallen on them. Responding in a swift and timely manner can save the worker’s life. Smart clothing can help co-workers find someone and get the medical attention they need.
Another way smart wearables make the sector safer is by alerting management if an employee enters a dangerous environment or is injured. In addition, technology has evolved to the point where exoskeleton suits can make specific tasks more manageable. Workers can wear them when undertaking strenuous operations with a high possibility of injury.
Big data is the process of collecting and storing large quantities of information. While this was not readily available in the past, recent years have seen construction companies use this approach to streamline processes.
Construction companies that use this technology have seen massive benefits, such as reducing waste, increasing worker safety and planning projects more efficiently. The cost of materials has increased by 14.5% since the COVID-19 pandemic and companies needed to adapt.
Big data allows organizations to analyze information and only purchase required resources. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) also make the sector safer.
Different AI technologies, such as computer vision and AI cameras, can reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring. For example, they can monitor the environment for dangers, such as hazardous chemicals, and alert workers. They can also examine staff and determine if anyone is utilizing unsafe practices. If they are, supervisors can be alerted to assist with the situation.
AI can also scan data that companies have collected and reasonably predict where safety risks can arise. For example, it can examine employee experience, the equipment available and construction site conditions to predict the likelihood of injuries.
While using artificial intelligence to analyze data and predict incidents is not yet widely adopted, it can dramatically increase worker safety in the future.
Drones have been making their way into the construction sector. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provide many advantages, such as conducting site inspections. Inspections often occur at heights, making conducting them in-person extremely dangerous if something were to go wrong and risking worker safety.
However, staff can use UAVs to perform these inspections while they are safely on the ground. Drones can also keep an eye on workers to ensure they are adhering to safety protocols. They feature sensors to monitor air quality and notify people of unsafe air.
Autonomous drones can perform many of these processes automatically. Some construction companies utilize UAVs to carry small equipment and tools to workers. For example, they can bring equipment to employees working at heights so they don’t have to climb down. This reduces the likelihood of falling and saves time.
Drones are consumer products, meaning they are readily available. These flying vehicles have become a vital part of how many companies complete projects.
Construction has become much safer than it was years ago. Today, worker welfare has become a priority in the sector and is taken more seriously than in previous years. Improvements will continue as more technology is implemented and awareness of new technologies increases.