Safety is improving in the construction industry, according to the National Safety Council, (NSC), but the occurrence of serious injuries and fatalities in many industries continues to rise. In fact, 2016 was the third consecutive year on record in which fatalities were up.
“I think it’s fair to say that while we have been getting better at preventing most incidents and improving safety, in general, there are specific ways in which we have not been improving and we need to do more to address,” explains John Dony, director of Campbell Institute at the NSC. “This has led higher-maturity organizations to focus on leading indicators—those that are proactive, preventative, and predictive—instead.”
Construction Safety Trends
Dony points to three general trends that are happening today with regards to construction safety.
- Increased reliance on a contracted workforce - This is due, in part, to the need for various areas of special expertise in the field. The nature of contracted work is such that it causes a number of critical safety challenges related to training and onboarding, understanding of, and compliance with, host company work procedures, ongoing monitoring of the work for safe and unsafe conditions, and communications between the various contractors on a site.
- Construction industry faced with an aging workforce - As such, a number of construction firms are putting a greater focus on integrated health and wellbeing programs.
- Increased attention to safety in the field due to the overall economic conditions - When organizations are operating in a poor economic climate, some seem to see safety as a “soft” expense and cut spending on it deeply, only to discover how costly it can be.
As the trend toward greater safety on the construction jobsite continues to grow, there are two key areas that will be critical to success: training and implementation of new technologies.
Creating a Culture of Safety
Going beyond compliance training is one of the biggest things that organizations in any industry can do, but this is perhaps more relevant in construction than any other industry because compliance training is often mandated, according to Dony.
He suggests that training around more advanced safety topics and focusing on creating a culture of safety are what is really critical—not necessarily being able to score 80 percent on a comprehensive test.
Creating a culture of safety includes empowering all workers, employees, or contractors to make observations, report unsafe conditions, and have the authority to stop work without retribution.
“Until an organization is able to build that sort of a culture and back it with a management system built on the principle of continuous improvement, it won’t get very far with training,” he explains.
Consider this example: you can take first aid training a hundred times, but you will never be a doctor. You’ll just be very good at first aid. In the same way, focusing on a basic level of safety training and not paying attention to systems and culture will not fundamentally make an organization any safer, explains Dony.
Still, there are a number of resources and tools at the disposal of construction companies today. For instance, rainy day and on-the-spot training are available and effective. However, in-person training provides invaluable tools, resources, and information to ensure participants can apply information learned in the field, suggests Eric Perry, senior technical advisor, American Traffic Safety Services Assn. (ATSSA).
Brian Watson, director of new programs, ATSSA, adds that there are a lot of work zone intrusion safety precautions to consider. For instance, a new case study book from the ATSSA runs the gambit between old technologies that have worked for years with newer technologies, using more innovative techniques. “It also goes into the future when automated vehicles are entering the market and how we can offset any rouge vehicles coming into a work zone as well.”
With that in mind, every company has a responsibility to enforce a comprehensive transportation safety program that invests in technology and supports safe workers.
One area in particular where this is critical is with a fleet of high-tech construction equipment. David Braunstein, president, Together for Safer Roads, suggests conducting training sessions for both vehicle operators and those who work around construction vehicles and in work zones.
“For many employees, acceptance of new technologies can be challenging, so it is important for companies to invest in meaningful training to understand the purpose and successful use of these technologies,” he says. “Outside of training sessions, construction companies can proactively install safety system tampering prevention in their vehicles so that drivers cannot disable embedded safety features.”
Emerging Technologies for Construction Safety Training
Technology, in general, is making training and development both more efficient and effective. Case in point: mobile learning, which is education and training conducted via hand-held devices.
“Training is no longer one and done, check the box events,” explains Braunstein. “Organizations can now offer ongoing, engaging micro-learning events, reaching employees who do not normally work out of an office environment. This means safety training can literally accompany employees to the jobsite, keeping safe practices and procedures top of mind.”
Still, he suggests one of the most important skills any employee can develop in the construction industry is hazard recognition—and technology can help. Advances in the field of training and development include virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which are already helping many construction professionals analyze, predict, and prevent hazardous situations.
Other emerging technologies that can help with safety training include:
- Wearables for monitoring heat stress or limiting access to restricted areas
- Sensors for avoiding human and machine interaction
- Drones for inspections
- Mobile devices for safety reporting and information
NSC’s Dony says the applications for technology that help make workers safer are nearly limitless, and more are being explored by organizations every day.
“The key is to consider what technology will have the biggest bang for the buck and also ensure that you don’t add any additional or new risks to a project when you integrate technology as a solution for an existing problem,” he says. “For example, creating distraction with mobile device use. Mature organizations are using a technology roadmap approach to ensure that they are implementing new technology thoughtfully and strategically.”