Smart Sensors Are Helping to Make Jobsites Safer

Sensor-based technology can identify conditions that pose threats to both workers and buildings.

New technology can boost productivity and allow the previously impossible — think exoskeletons and 3D printers. But considering the cost (human and monetary) of accidents and injuries, tech innovations may be most important when they enhance safety.

Tech in the form of drones, GPS and AR is already being used to help prevent accidents. But smart sensors are also upping the safety game.

There are wearable sensors like spot-r, a belt-worn sensor from Triax that keeps track of employee slips and falls in real time and allows the wearer to alert others to worksite hazards. And then there are sensor-based systems that help contractors and owners monitor conditions on jobsites and inside buildings.

SmartSite's system, currently in beta testing, uses sensors, wrapped in a strong cylindrical casing and set atop a tripod, to identify threats posed by noise, UV radiation and airborne particulates. If any of these potential risks reach dangerous levels, the SmartSite system sounds an audible alert.

Pillar Technologies’ sensors are aimed at protecting the building more than the workers. Its 5.5-inch-by-6.8-inch heavy-duty sensors can be placed around the inside of a building, and once the structure is enclosed, the battery-powered, Wi-Fi-connected devices monitor temperature, humidity, pressure, dust particles, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), noise and smoke.

The sensors track changes in these conditions and send user alerts based on the potential threats identified during system setup. So, for example, a sensor might detect freezing temperatures in the building's mechanical room. If pipes are filled with water, they could burst, causing damage to the pipes and also the surrounding area. An alert could give crews time to get to the site and fix the source of the heating problem before that happens.

The sensors can also help workers by detecting potentially hazardous conditions such as high levels of dust in the air.

SmartSite's and Pillar's software features also come in handy when reporting property damage to insurance companies.

Workers aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from these kinds of tracking systems. General contracting firm Skanska USA designed its own sensor-based app called the inSite Monitor. The company uses it during hospital renovations to give patients and medical staff an extra layer of protection during construction. Both Skanska employees and hospital personnel can monitor noise, vibration, dust and differential pressure via smartphone and receive alerts when levels fall out of the acceptable ranges.

Construction technology still has a long way to go, but systems like these are moving the industry closer to the day when contractors can focus on building and let apps and sensors do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to safety.