3 Innovative Tech Strategies for Preventing Accidents in 2017
It’s no secret construction is one of the most dangerous industries. In 2015, the private construction industry incurred approximately 200,000 non-fatal injuries and 937 fatal injuries according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With such dire statistics, keeping workers safe is a challenge. But safety-related tech gets better each year. Here are just three innovative technologies that may help reduce the risk of accidents.
Drones can go places that can be risky to humans. In 2016 the Kansas Department of Transportation began using them for bridge and tower inspections.
“Our Aviation and Bridge inspection teams are doing great work in testing drones to enhance the safety of KDOT workers and improve cost efficiencies,” said acting transportation secretary Richard Carlson in a press release. “We believe UAS may reduce the need to place our engineers in potentially dangerous situations and we intend to pursue every opportunity that makes them more efficient.”
The just-completed Sacramento Kings Arena was built using a drone system called the Flying Superintendent, which, in conjunction with 4D BIM, allowed on-site and off-site personnel to analyze work in progress. Besides helping with quality control, the system improved safety by providing “a clear and immediate understanding of potential hazards,” according to the team at the University of Illinois that developed the system.
GPS lets you track the location of your construction equipment and can even let you know when the engine is turned on — potentially helping you make sure employees such as crane operators are complying with certain labor laws. But other uses are emerging.
Redpoint Positioning is developing an innovative safety vest using GPS-like real-time location services (RTLS). When a worker enters a hazardous zone, defined in BIM software, the vest flashes and gives out an audible warning. It also sends a signal to the appropriate manager and records the incident in a cloud database. The vests could also be used to monitor workers relative to certain pieces of equipment.
Skanska USA recently tried out the vests during a Boston office building project.
According to Antti Korhonen, president and CEO of Redpoint Positioning, the vest is available in small quantities for testing and piloting and will become commercially available in the second half of 2017. The Redpoint B3 Workforce Safety Badge, which alerts the worker with a strobe light and beeper integrated in the badge, is available now.
Augmented reality is being used more and more in construction to boost efficiency and enhance safety and training.
One company, DAQRI, has developed a helmet with AR functionlity built in. Last year DAQRI partnered with Mortenson Construction to test the Smart Helmet, which is equipped with a visor that can display all manner of information in 3D overlays — think schematics, step-by-step work instructions, even safety alerts (there’s too much pressure in that pipe!). The helmet allows for real-time communication with remote personnel. The thermal vision capability can even warn of heat dangers.
By Mark Hagen
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Why and How to Review 'Near Misses'
Sometimes bad things "almost happen" on construction sites. Someone would have stepped on a nail sticking out of a board if a co-worker hadn't given a last-minute warning. An equipment operator might have backed over someone if an alert bystander hadn't run over and banged on his window.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers these types of close calls indicators that future recordable accidents or injuries could happen. While the company doesn't have to report them to OSHA, the agency is in favor of programs that keep track of these near misses and help management take a new look at safety procedures.
But how do you get employees to inform their supervisors when a near miss happens?
First, as with any other successful company initiative, upper management has to demonstrate buy-in. Once workers see that the company has made near-miss reporting a high priority, they're more likely to comply.
Next, develop an easy-to-use, non-punitive reporting system. For each report that comes in, perform what OSHA calls a "root cause analysis," which looks at the episode and asks how and why it occurred and what needs to change so that it doesn't happen again. These assessments aim to get at the core reasons for the incident, not just the immediate cause.
In the example of the worker who almost stepped on a nail, the immediate cause might be that a carpenter overlooked the board as he was demolishing a wall. But one underlying reason could be that there isn’t an adequate, safe waste removal process in place.
Finally, management should educate workers about what the company is trying to achieve — fewer accidents — and roll out the specifics of the plan at a special group training session. The importance of reporting near-miss incidents should also be made part of each new employee's introduction to the company.
A near miss means someone got lucky — and might not be as lucky the next time. Near-miss reporting and analysis helps take luck out of the equation.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.