Using Tech to Improve Safety on Construction Sites

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), reports out of 4,379 worker fatalities in the private industry in 2015, there were 937 or 21.4% in the construction industry alone. That means one in five worker deaths last year were reported to be at the construction facilities. The leading cause of private sector worker deaths in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These "Fatal Four" were responsible for more than half, 64.2%, of the construction worker deaths in 2015, based on a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Eliminating the "Fatal Four" would save 602 workers' lives in America every year.

There is no surprise then that three of the four “Fatal Four” causes can be linked to using equipment on the jobsite. Besides a worker falling off of equipment, sometimes the equipment can malfunction or the operator is driving a load blind and it can fall onto a worker below. That can be tied into being struck by an object; either by the dropped load or being run over or backed into by a piece of machinery or equipment. Being caught in-between encompasses them both, either between equipment, under it, or between a load and the ground.

There are many ways that construction companies are improving safety. Perhaps the first place to begin is with equipment and the leaders on the jobsite, stresses Chris Machut, CTO, Netarus. Machut says heavy equipment operators and those that manage them need to know what is going on in the field at all times. The operator needs to get a direct line of sight to haul the load on the crane, no blind load moving and management needs to have a good handle on site movement at all times.

Adds Peter Bigwood, VP sales and marketing, Brokk Inc., contractors need to observe all the guidelines and instructions of the equipment. He emphasizes that there are inherent risks such as debris falling, equipment tipping, and rogue movements of equipment happening. He makes the point that those on the ground need to be aware of their surroundings at all time.

The Role of Tech

Equipment on the jobsite has evolved with safety features and they can help keep workers protected from harm’s way. Machut says equipment can provide an operator with better information about what is going on at the jobsite. Technology is improving jobsite communication among workers to avoid hazards.

Terry Young, president, Construction Safety Experts, says in the crane and rigging industry there are a lot of accidents. Many of these accidents occur as a result of getting on and off of the crane. With tower cranes, the crane positioning makes it difficult to get in and out of. As a result of these accidents, manufacturers have been diligently working with operators to improve the equipment in the field to make it a safer place to work.

Another way to improve safety on the construction jobsite is by establishing proper worksite procedures and educating workers on these processes.

Young agrees. He says the industry has more protection aids than in the past. Computerized systems help crane operators. They give the operator all this data that wasn’t readily available in the past to assist in how to make the jobsite a safer work environment. He adds, today there are wind-speed devices and alarm systems, just to name a couple. But there are many more.

However, as useful as the new data has been, sometimes taking construction professionals out of the equation altogether is the solution, insists many experts.

Enter Robots.

Brokk’s Bigwood says removing the operator takes the human-element from the equation and out of harm’s way is a huge benefit that demonstrates how equipment has evolved and is playing a role in eliminating injuries and even deaths at jobsite.

He points to demolition robots that have improved safety and reduced injuries and even deaths. Being remote, he says, the controls are on the operator and there is a sleep function that turns the robot off after a few seconds of inactivity to avoid accidentally hitting the switch and causing an accident. He says, this reduces downtime, loss of injuries, and improves efficiency.

Machut also notes there are visual-aid technologies that can be used in the field that can help the jobsite be less vulnerable. “There are anti-collision systems on equipment, trucks, and cranes. They use radar to identify objects in the way,” Machut says.

There have been advancements in personal protection equipment as well, which is also changing how contractors work at the jobsite.

Young says, “There is fall protection technology and new standards and practices for lattice boom cranes when a contractor climbs on or is on the boom. Generally there isn’t a safe way to attach yourself to the boom to prevent a fall. There are devices and products coming out to help attach one safely to the boom.”

The technology to improve safety does not need to be on the equipment or the contractor, rather it can be a completely separate tool all together.

Bigwood says, “The use of cameras on the boom of a crane can be extremely helpful. The operator can see what they are doing, making it much safer now. Using remote-controlled technology, robots help improve safety. The robots replace manual labor and put the contractor out of possible harm’s way.”

Overcoming Tech Obstacles

Even with these advancements and innovations in safety, there still are obstacles when attempting to button up a jobsite. Machut says one of the challenges is the “human” factor. He adds, “Besides the technology working and how it is working, the human is the important element. There has to be proper training and implementation of the tech. You have to make sure you don’t become dependent on the technology and that you don’t abandon the standard heavy equipment safety rules because you have this technology.”

Young adds, “A challenge with safety is cranes are being computerized and the set up is different. They are making the cranes lighter with the same compatibilities to lift what they did before. Project managers have to watch and see how trained the operators are with the newer cranes. They have to learn a lot of new technology and procedures quickly. The employer has to make sure the operator can use the crane properly.”

When it comes to new technology or following safety precautions, contractors cannot be impervious to their scenery. “You need to make sure you understand the technology. Make sure you know how to use it. Make sure that the manufacturer you are working with provides the help and resources so you can be successful with using the technology.” Machut says.

But at the end of the day, technology is just an enabling tool, and the crux to safeguarding the jobsite comes back to having good procedures and guidelines in place for workers.

“When working with equipment, they need to make sure they have a safety plan. A plan for the day and for the task at hand. There is a lot more planning that has to be done today to ensure a safe jobsite,” Young says.

Construction firms will need to make their contractors aware of all the current safety options when working with equipment. Contractors need to remember that the way to be the safest on the jobsite is to pay attention to their surroundings and to be aware at all times. The combination of good procedures and enabling technology will help make the jobsite a much safer place.

June is National Safety Month. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the producers of CONEXPO-CON/AGG, is a proud sponsor of National Safety Month in partnership with the National Safety Council. AEM’s full-line of safety materials communicate the preparation, safe operation and maintenance of equipment across all industry sectors. Learn more at www.safetymaterials.org

Posted: 6/5/2017 6:53:30 PM



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