Is technology the answer to the problem of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry?

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Technology options for the construction industry have evolved at a rapid pace over the past decade. Virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, big data trends, BIM modeling, drones, robots and cobots, artificial vision for hazard detection and decision-making, gamification, portable multi-function data collection devices, work monitoring devices solitaire and exoskeletons have become one of the common technology choices available to help improve worker safety and efficiency while performing complex, high-risk jobs.

However, as the old saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Some of these technologies create new risks that can cause more problems in carrying out construction work safely than they solve. Construction companies need to find a balance in moving towards technological immersion. Is technology the answer to the problem of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry? The answer is “it depends”.

Widespread risks

The International Labor Organization estimates that around 2.3 million people worldwide die of work-related accidents each year, which translates to more than 6,000 deaths every day. The hazards associated with construction work (slips, trips, falls, burns, electrical incidents, material handling injuries, etc.), associated with the cost, productivity and performance pressures of the construction industry , have historically resulted in disproportionately high percentages of injuries and fatalities. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are approximately 150,000 injuries on construction sites, with approximately 20% of all workplace fatalities in the United States directly related to construction work.

According to a Pew Research Center study , convenience and security are fueling addiction to digital tools which, in turn, is accelerating the adoption of new digital tools and platforms. This is especially true for the construction industry which focuses on detailed, well-executed projects. cost, scope, productivity and quality plans related to the on-time delivery of projects. Emerging technology solutions ranging from digitizing data to innovative technologies are changing strategic business models, connecting people to services and forcing entire industries to rethink future workplace safety.

In 2020, the National Security Council reported that 53% of security professionals surveyed said they were using new health and safety software or mobile apps, and 29% said they were using wearable technology. Technology entrepreneurs claim that when construction organizations use a construction safety methodology or technology, not only safety measures are positively influenced, but an increase in performance and efficiency is also seen. Despite claims by tech entrepreneurs, survey data, and anecdotal evidence advanced by security professionals, construction deaths in the United States remain relatively stable.

Why then, by implementing the latest technology in the construction process and overall organization, thereby speeding up project time, saving money and overall creating a better performing structure, aren’t these “big improvements” not highlighted in construction safety measures and technology around the world? implementations fall flat? The World Economic Forum Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology report indicates that over the past five decades, most cCountries reported minimal productivity improvements related to new technologies in construction management and completion. Similarly, new security-related technologies and tools have been developed, but the rate of adoption and successful implementation of these tools has been limited. The most obvious gap between the use of emerging technologies for the reduction of incidents, injuries and fatalities is the lack of fundamental support for the workers responsible for the “in the field” use of these innovations, coupled with a management ineffective or absent organizational focus on a good Safety Management System (SMS) framework and components.

Given this glaring fundamental gap within many organizations in their SMS approach, it is important to ask whether the deployment of emerging technologies is a “cart before the horse” method dedicated to implementation and results. ineffective. The answer is “yes” unless a strong SMS foundation and well-defined organizational culture is in place to support and fuel the internal paradigm shifts needed to support emerging safety technology initiatives. Distinct, functional and refined attitudes and practices coupled with a strong SMS must be present to foster the trust and buy-in needed to truly embrace new safety technology.

United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidance for “Recommended Practices for Construction Safety and Health Programs” which focuses on the fundamental components of a Safety Management System (SMS) for any size organization. With the ISO 45001 (the international standard for occupational health and safety developed by national and international standards committees), it is strongly expected that the fundamental components and structure of the safety program, including hazard identification and risk management efforts, be central to organizational efforts to reduce incidents, injuries and fatalities.

A 2016 World Economic Fund Construction Industry Agenda Paper”Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technologyproposed the use of big data and analytics – algorithms that generate new insights from huge pools of data that can be created on construction projects during normal work phases. By leveraging mobile connectivity and real-time risk identification and mitigation, codifying organizational decision-making methods around security, organizations can cement real-time communication of SMS expectations and components and provide workers with tools and resources to amplify their impact on organizational safety goals. . Although adoption of technological innovation has been relatively slow in the construction industryGoing digital has since been shown to improve communication with stakeholders, provide high accuracy in safety documentation processes and activities, improve safety communication, reduce errors and provide 360 ​​degree visibility into the sites of present hazards that need to be mitigated in real time. It seems that the “missing link” between readily available innovative technology and declining construction injury and fatality statistics likely lies hidden in plain sight – in the basics of digitized safety management systems that lay the foundation for knowledge and compliance.

One technology tool that may be the most intuitive first step to help lay the foundation of SMS with organizations is digitization. The digitization of software as a service (SaaS) directly helps bring together the building blocks of the SMS framework in organizations that can be powered by decision-making tools that help reduce human error through hazard recognition and risk reduction. Although technological in nature (digitalization of record keeping, performance monitoring, and analytics-based decision making), turnkey security-related SaaS solutions offer solid approaches to the 5-M model (man , machine, support, mission and management) to streamline the organization. , supervisor, and decision-making line workers to help correct failures in major precursors to incidents, injuries, and fatalities.

Radical change

Adding security technologies at the same time can boost business performance, well-being and engagement, but also most certainly brings radical changes to organizational culture and the worker’s direct environment. Therefore, construction is a natural choice for enterprise-wide blockchain (shared data) based project and site management. With turnkey SaaS solutions, organizational SMS objectives and overall security requirements can be clarified through organized and well-communicated real-time collection, management and decision-making tools using a centralized database supported by SMS performance algorithm. Conventional safety management techniques can still be used in concert with these methods, but the organization can benefit immensely from a more decentralized and agile approach, where transparency is high, and all parties (particularly workers) can be held accountable and celebrated for safe work outcomes. .

A strong organizational decision-making foundation must be present in a construction organization to fully realize the benefits of available technology choices and fully realize the safety-related benefits that these emerging technological advancements provide. Solidifying the SMS framework and associated decision-making aspects of safety practices that reduce risk MUST precede the selection, purchase, adoption and implementation of emerging technologies. To this end, fundamental security-focused SaaS solutions have begun to fill the void of the fundamental security, construction, and structure stabilization management system SMS for construction companies. By actively probing and understanding the data, organizations can gain a better understanding of the factors affecting their baseline security performance and turn learnings into real advantage.

Technological innovations for security have grown exponentially in today’s Industry 4.0. As Industry 4.0 transitions to 5.0, organizations are challenged to explore significant opportunities to reduce risk by collecting real-world data and bringing it to the virtual world for decision making. This change cannot be achieved without the decision-making and SMS components being firmly anchored in the corporate culture around safety objectives. SaaS is the most promising vehicle for creating and sustaining the SMS organizational foundation upon which successful emerging technology initiatives can be layered with the goal of innovatively improving worker safety and well-being and reducing incidents. , injuries and fatalities in construction.

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