Safety at the jobsite is evolving almost daily. New innovations and products aim to simplify safety procedures. Even with these opportunities, construction is still one of the professions with the most worker injuries and deaths. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), construction fall protection was the number one violation in 2016.
Enter wearables. The technology provides new safety advantages for the construction industry. Carol Hagen, president, Hagen Business Systems, says, “A wearable can help the worker take a corrective action to stay safe.”
Problem Solving with Wearables
Due to the popularity of smartphones on jobsites, walking around the site has become extremely hazardous because employees are often looking down or distracted. Wearable devices, such as smart helmets and glasses aim to get devices out of the users hands and get their heads up on jobsites.
Ramon Llamas, research manager wearables and mobile phones, IDC, says, “Construction workers need their hands to do the job. Being hands free to do something non-work related can be hazardous. Wearables have solved a problem, allowing the worker to focus on the task at hand. It helps them get things done.”
Additionally, wearables allow workers to see the jobsite while simultaneously staying connected to the data, tracking the health of employees onsite including their temperature, location, and movement.
But more than that, wearables can provide access to critical information such as if an employee slips and falls or is hit by something. There are devices to track this.
Wearables can also let employers know if employees have entered a danger zone they shouldn’t be in. Employees can be tagged using smart wearables and tracked when they are around heavy machinery, which lets the operators know if anyone is near them while vehicles are in use.
Stephanie Zucchi, technology translator, Zbrella says, “The most valuable safety advantage of all is the data that is collected from all of these different devices. It allows business owners to see how a jobsite works, what the dangers are, and how to improve jobsites of the future to make them safer.”
Building on this, putting the focus on safety will ultimately lead to other benefits for workers at the construction jobsite.
Llamas says, “If you can prevent hazards at the jobsite, the project can be completed on time. No reports have to be made, no inspections have to happen. There is no down time at the site or having to find a replacement contractor.”
Technology is enabling contractors to do their job better. It helps them navigate the site better, understand the site better, and understand their own conditions without really having to think about it.
Zucchi says, “The most amazing part about technology is that all of this is happening without the contractor having to do anything. Technology is silently talking behind the scenes and helping keep them safe. And in turn, they can simply focus on doing the task at hand.”
A Double-Edged Sword
Just as wearables promise to remove distraction, many argue that they cause distractions. The reality is interacting with any type of device on a jobsite is always going to increase risks.
Zucchi says, “The distraction with smart devices, especially in the learning curve period of time when users are first getting used to devices, is a disadvantage. So is resistance from older workers, which can cause a strong dislike for devices and result in purposeful misuse or misunderstanding of devices.”
Still, there are more challenges that are holding back widespread adoption of the technology at the construction jobsite. For instance, Llamas points to a few saying, “There is a cost to deploying the technology for the owner. What will be the reception by the contractor? Will there be privacy issues that come up?”
Adoption of it will be hard if workers believe Big Brother is watching them. Companies need to help them understand wearables are intended to protect them and lower risk.
As advanced as a wearable can be in monitoring the safety of a contractor, it still can’t replace the common safety procedures. Llamas says, “They are there to augment and supplement the standards and procedures. The wearable won’t replace common sense. It’s to be used as an assistant. Wearables run on power, if that goes out, you need to rely on yourself.”
Still, wearables can change the culture and communication of safety procedures on the jobsite. Wearables with actionable data can be part of the solution for safety.
While adoption might still be developing, opportunities for the future are endless. Consider steel toed boots. Adoption of them wasn’t instantaneous. As adoption for these new wearables grows, using them will become just as common as putting on a pair of steel toed boots.
What is coming in the future? Zucchi predicts, “I think what we’ll see is technology incorporated into preexisting procedures that already exist. We will always need people to define what processes need to take place. We will need both people and technology to take the data and design a brighter, safer jobsite of the future. We’re still going to need OSHA, and we’re still going to need workers to study jobsite safety. The only thing that will change will be how we interact with and learn these safety procedures.”