How Technology is Making the Construction Industry Safer
Construction workers make up nearly 21 percent of all worker deaths in private industries. Some tech companies are hoping to change that.
It's no secret that the construction industry is a potentially dangerous field to work in. According to OSHA, in 2017 20.7 percent of all worker deaths in private industries were construction workers. That's one out of every five people. Clearly, the construction industry has some work to do when it comes to improving the safety of its work environments.
Thankfully, tech companies across the country see this need and are working on solutions. Below are examples of the many ways that modern advances in technology are being used to make the construction industry a safer place to work.
Wearable technologies, or "wearables", are everywhere now, taking the form of smart watches, augmented reality headsets, and even sensors for the soles of your shoes. One example of wearable tech made for construction is the Spot-r Clip. The Spot-r Clip packs a wealth of technology into a device about the size of a packet of floss that clips onto the user's belt. When someone wearing a Spot-r falls the device instantly identifies who fell, where they fell, and how far they fell. Triax, the company behind Spot-r, claims that the clip can improve injury response time by up to 91%. Falls are one of the construction industries "Fatal Four" causes of worker deaths, accounting for almost 39.1% of total fatal accidents, so any safety improvements in this area are welcome and necessary.
Training in VR
The best way to learn a trade is to get in the field and get hands-on. But in the world of construction any mistake, even one made as part of a learning process, can be costly and dangerous. That's why the training opportunities presented by VR technology are so exciting.
Training in virtual reality lets inexperienced people gain first-hand experience in a way that is true to real life without any of the potential consequences. Lincoln Electric has a product line called VRTEX that lets users train with welding tools in a safe, virtual environment. Machines like the VRTEX 360 provide a place for people to learn where they can make mistakes that do not jeopardize their own or someone else's safety. Allowing people to make mistakes in a controlled environment is a great way for them to learn without having to put the lives and livelihoods of other people at risk.
An english poet once said that "to err is human". It makes sense, then, that around ninety-four percent of motor vehicle crashes are at least partially caused by human error. People make mistakes, and when they make mistakes while operating large, mechanical vehicles and equipment the consequences can be deadly. Getting self-driving equipment onto more jobsites can eliminate the "human" factor from human error. Companies like Built Robotics are developing autonomous equipment as a solution in areas with low labor forces as well as to increase jobsite safety.
“Our top priority is safety — if the robot can work on steep slopes, or near unstable ground, or in challenging or risky situations, then we one-hundred percent should use it," said Molly Morgan, an equipment manager for Mortenson, a construction company that is beginning to put Built Robotic's autonomous equipment on remote jobsites.
Tracking air conditions
Jobsites, especially during any sort of demolition work, have a bad habit of letting loose a lot of nasty stuff into the air, from silica dust to carbon monoxide. Tracking microscopic particles might seem impossible, but there are actually several devices designed to monitor air quality and send out alerts when any harmful substances make their way into the air. Pillar Technologies produces Pods for jobsites that track seemingly every possible aspect of air quality, including temperature, humidity, VOC's, and particulates. Airthings makes a similar indoor monitor for smaller scale operations that also tracks air quality in real time using six separate sensors.
Drones can give a different perspective
Some home builders have taken to using drones to capture images of a jobsite from a wide-angle, top-down view. While these images are a great way to advertise quality home building, this technology should not be limited to just taking pretty pictures. Survey footage from a drone gives builders a different perspective than the one they are used to. Seeing things from a different angle can make it easier to spot potential safety risks and areas of concern and then eliminate potential problems before they happen. What better way is there to scan an area for safety concerns than from a bird's eye view?
Out of all of types of technology featured in this story, "exoskeletons" seem the most futuristic. The idea of a wearable suit that makes it possible for users to lift objects far heavier than they normally could is straight out of a sci-fi movie, and probably not something most people would expect to see on a jobsite within the next ten years. But according to ABI Research, the market for these kinds of exoskeletons is about to expand dramatically.
“Following years of ongoing research and development, a commercial exoskeleton market finally fully emerged, though it is still in its nascency,” said Dan Kara, Research Director at ABI Research. “Social imperatives, military requirements and business needs, supported by technological advances, now make it possible to develop commercially viable exoskeleton systems for a wide variety of applications and markets.”
Anyone who has spent more than a few years working a job that requires any sort of manual labor knows the effect that hard work has on the human body. Muscles and joints simply wear out after significant abuse, and a tired, worn out body is more likely to sustain injury. Should these exoskeletons become more commonplace, they could lessen the impact that years of working in the construction industry has on the average body.
Some of the examples of technology in this story are in the developmental phase, and a few are only accessible to large-scale construction companies like those in the commercial sector. But the fact that these innovations are being made at those upper levels means that they will hopefully begin to become less expensive, less exclusive, and eventually trickle down into every level of the construction industry.