The Role of Automation in Improving Construction Site Safety

January 14, 2020 | Read: 7 minutes

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The construction industry, as a whole, is often slow to adopt technological innovations when compared to other sectors. In fact, it is one of the least digitized industries in the country, second only to the agricultural sector.

However, it’s starting to catch up. As construction automation and other innovations are being developed, automation tools are helping to meet the industry’s growing needs. 

To discuss more on this topic, we spoke to Patrick Hogan, the CEO of Handle.com. Handle are experts in building software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments.

Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.

From improving collaboration among stakeholders to streamlining billing using dedicated lien management solutions, almost all aspects of the construction process have been enhanced by technological innovations…

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Automation and Safety at Work

Not the least of these is the use of technology to improve construction site safety. 

There is no question about the construction industry’s reputation as one of the most dangerous industries to work in.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the construction sector accounted for 47% of worker deaths for a total of 5,147 workers dying on the job in 2017.

Many of these deaths resulted from falls from a height, electrocution, being struck by an object, and being caught in between hazards.

OSHA dubbed these risks as the Fatal Four and claims that eliminating them fully will result in 582 workers’ lives being saved in the United States every year. With how fast safety innovations are developed, this goal is very much achievable.

Construction site safety is no longer just about hard hats and safety glasses.

The industry is moving towards automation to address its safety needs.

Although it will take a considerable time before contractors are fully automated, the constant risk to human workers pushes the industry to implement new ways to make the construction site safer.

Below, we’ll share information about the latest technological innovations that shape today’s safer construction workplace.

Drone Technology for Site Inspections

As construction sites grow in size and complexity, so does the difficulty in managing them.

Inspecting a site during the pre-construction phase can take human inspectors days before they can give their assessment. Not to mention that at this point, many parts of the site contain safety hazards that can endanger individuals. 

To solve this issue, industry leaders have turned to drone technology in an attempt to eliminate the need for humans to be exposed to dangerous environments. Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have evolved from their military and recreational applications to becoming some of the most critical tools for construction safety. 

One of the major advantages of drones is their peerless ability to monitor construction sites from the air. Drones that are equipped with infrared cameras, laser-based range finders, and radar can provide a unique photographic and video perspective of a site. They can also be used to track moving objects such as equipment, material supplies, and construction site workers.

Drones can also inspect a construction site more safely and more efficiently than a team of human inspectors can. A drone with its bird’s-eye view can be used to detect hazardous conditions and assess structures more fully as opposed to putting a team on the ground at risk. They can even be used to navigate areas that are too tight for humans to pass through. 

Generally speaking, this technology could be extended to cover other field service specializations, like electrical inspections, hazardous plumbing jobs, and many others.

When it comes down to it, it’s easier to risk a drone than the safety of a technician.

Virtual Reality for Realistic Safety Training

Two areas that automation can have a huge impact on are safety training and equipment operation. Nothing beats actual training in reducing the risk of injuries and fatalities on a construction site or any other hazardous environment. A lot of the most common causes of these injuries can be avoided if employees know how to handle equipment safely and work in confined spaces or at height. 

One of the newest technologies that is gaining use in safety training is virtual reality (VR). VR simulations have been used for years to train pilots, doctors, and soldiers and the technology has the potential to revolutionize the way field service firms train workers. 

Traditional lectures and video presentations can only do so much to engage technicians, especially its younger members. Hands-on experience in a controlled environment will always be a better teacher.

Virtual reality technology removes the limitations of conventional training procedures by simulating realistic sensations of height and stress that is challenging to replicate. They can even be programmed to suit the needs of a specific work site. While VR simulators are expensive, they can be a lot cheaper and safer than training workers using real equipment and environmental conditions. 

Wearables for Monitoring Employee Safety

Wearables are making a splash in the consumer market with smartwatches and glasses providing many different functions, including travel, music, and fitness. In the field service industry, wearables present an opportunity to reduce the risk of injuries, improve safety, and generally enhance the quality of life for technicians and other workers.

Construction automation wearables, for example, are worn on a worker’s body, clothing, or personal protective equipment. Using sensors, wearables can collect data about the individual’s biometrics and their environment then warn them of potential injuries.

Some of the functionalities that construction wearables provide are vibration alarms when their wearers are close to danger (ledges, objects overhead, etc.), alerts when making hazardous physical movements beyond normal limits, and cautions when their vitals show signs of exhaustion.

In case of emergencies, wearables may also alert the site’s emergency team and lead them to the injured worker’s location. 

Support & Augment Worker Strength

Handling of heavy equipment can make workers vulnerable to body strains and musculoskeletal disorders.

To reduce the toll of work on their bodies, they can wear supportive equipment, like bracers or, in more advanced circumstances: exosuits and exoskeletons.

These devices and wearable pieces of technology can support your team, preventing injury, or even augment the wearer’s strength and protect them from injuries.

They won’t turn your workers into Batman, but for support and strength, there’s reason to believe that these tools will become more common in the workplace.

First developed for the military, exoskeletons have found a huge application in the healthcare industry for rehabilitating injured patients. But there are suits and tools in development to enhance workers in industrial environments.

Exoskeletons are metal frameworks that can be equipped with mechanical systems that give the human body more lifting strength, enhance production in repetitive tasks, and improve posture. 

Exoskeletons can either be active or passive. Passive or unpowered exoskeletons are not equipped with actuators or motors but rather a counterweight mechanism that helps redistribute weight and reduce the strain from lifting.

Active or power-assisted exosuits, on the other hand, use motors and sensors to multiply the wearer’s strength and aid in lifting activities. 

Utilising Technology in the Workplace

Construction employers and project managers have the responsibility to ensure that the employees working with them have a safe working environment. By using automation and smart technology, the industry is getting closer to the goal of eliminating workplace fatalities and injuries.

And there you have it, straight from the experts on the matter! If you want to continue your journey towards growing your business, click below to download our free guide!

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I'm here to bring you next-level strategies to the field service industry. When I'm not working on the best tips to grow your business, I'm on the lookout for sci-fi novels and cookie recipes.

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