New technologies increase personal safety in construction
Despite an increased focus on safety in recent years, construction remains one of the most dangerous industries. Consider the following statistics:
• 933 deaths and over 280,000 injuries occurred in 2014 in the Unites States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• On-the-job injuries cost the construction industry billions each year; roughly an average $5.4 million in additional revenue to offset the costs associated with a single non-fatal injury, according to Vista Training Inc., Waterford, Wis.
New technologies over the past decade have spurred innovation in many functional areas of construction and related industries. However, while technology has led to tremendous advancements in areas like management and modeling, transportation, communications and prototyping, advancements in personal safety and visibility have lagged. Probably no piece of gear is more indicative of this than the retroreflective vest⎯the primary piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) used to protect individuals. To make significant progress toward the industry’s goal of zero accidents, PPE needs to evolve to embrace more active safety solutions.
Fortunately, the concept of active safety is beginning to take hold in the construction industry, and manufacturers are taking note. More new products are changing what it means to be safe on the job by incorporating modern technologies. Ongoing improvements in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and battery technologies are advancing job-site illumination. Wireless technologies like Bluetooth are redefining the way we communicate on the job, while radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology increases the means by which we can view and track people and equipment on the job. New composite materials are making our gear stronger and lighter. Technologies like accelerometers and gyroscopes measure the speed, distance and orientation of wearable technology solutions.
Future job sites will be connected both on-site and remotely which will encourage new worker safety solutions. Personal active safety systems that combine hardware and software are the next major step in the evolution of personal safety. Such systems will allow supervisors, safety managers and equipment operators to identify every worker on-site visually or virtually at all times. Other technological advancements will report back important statistics on worker health and safety, such as heart rate, temperature, and even direction and velocity of movement. The ability to track all this information on a smartphone or tablet is close to becoming a reality that will save lives.
Active safety solutions connected to smart devices like phones and tablets will enable safety personnel to better gauge the safety of workers. Today, when there is a job-site evacuation (fire, gas leak or chemical spill), the only way to know if everyone is safely off the job site is to do a manual headcount. With active safety solutions, safety personnel can use their mobile device to determine whether everyone is clear of the evacuation area and provide first responders with the exact location of anyone still in danger. Crane operators will be able to see a live feed of everyone in the path of their load and notify people to clear out. Supervisors will receive alerts if a worker’s vitals are at dangerous levels or if a worker falls (measured through a combination of speed, direction of movement and other factors). All of this becomes possible as the result of wearable technologies
(gear with integrated hardware) on the job site, in which gear worn by an individual is connected to an intelligent software platform.
Personal active safety solutions have applications well beyond the construction industry. They will benefit anyone working in high-risk environments including miners, longshoremen, oil and gas workers, railroad line crews, first responders and fire safety personnel. Though personal work safety gear has been slow to evolve up to now across these industries, new technological innovations are likely to introduce major advancements in the coming years.
Max Baker is CEO of ILLUMAGEAR, a Seattle-based company focused on improving worker safety in risky environments and bringing innovative products to market that define a new category of safety gear. To learn more, visit www.illumagear.com.