The construction industry has grown and changed dramatically as technology makes itself known in the sector. From computer-controlled equipment to 3D virtual designs, tech has become part of nearly every aspect of the construction process. One place where organizations have overlooked the potential impact, however, is the human aspect of the field.
How can supervisors, team leaders and company owners use technology to better monitor the health of team members on the construction site?
Understanding the Risks
The first step to learning how to better monitor health on construction sites is to understand the risks these workers face every day, even under the best of circumstances. Employees of companies that operate in warm climates are often at risk for heatstroke and unhealthy levels of UV exposure.
Exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace can cause cancer and respiratory problems. Vibrating equipment and pieces that make a lot of noise all create risks that organizations must address to keep employees safe and healthy. Add to that the fact that construction-related deaths on the job are climbing rather than falling, and the issues start to become apparent. Efficiency and productivity are good, but not at the expense of workers’ health.
OSHA regulations, such as offering first aid on-site and marking exits clearly, are a good starting point for business owners trying to determine the best ways to protect employees. Even companies that don’t typically need to worry about OSHA regulations can benefit from reviewing these standards and taking steps to comply with them.
Environmental Sensors and Industrial IoT
How can business owners protect their employees from things that are invisible to the naked eye, like silica dust or airborne chemicals? By relying on hardware and software designed to do just that. SmartSite, for example, has created on-site sensors that take samples of the air on a job site to determine air quality and whether employees need to take precautions, such as wearing respirators or avoid the area completely.
SmartSite uses “off-the-shelf” sensors to detect particle density in the air, UV levels and decibel levels, among other things. These sensors, paired with proprietary networked software, tell employees and managers where they need to take additional precautions to stay safe. It might sound like a simple solution, but having something that can see things that the human eye might miss can make all the difference.
This example is just one application for the Industrial Internet of Things that might keep construction employees healthy in the future.
Wearable Technology for Employee Health
Wearable technology has already made its presence known in the fitness industry, with a variety of different devices that can track things like heart rate, activity and basal metabolic rate to help people stay fit and lose weight. What the general public may not know is this type of tracking has worksite safety potential, too. Wearable technology has already become an invaluable tool to protect employee health in the construction industry.
Sensors can keep track of everything from an employee’s body temperature to ensure that they’re not experiencing heat-related illnesses, to the composition of the air around them to ensure they’re not inhaling dangerous chemicals or gases. These have been integrated into smart hardhats, glasses, watches and other personal devices that allow managers to keep track of employees — and employees to keep track of their own health.
The CDC has begun recommending the use of wearable technologies to protect the health of construction workers that may face exposure to dangerous chemicals or environments during their duties.
Current Barriers to Widespread Adoption
While the technology is available, not everyone is keen on adopting these tools for use on job sites, even if it will reduce the number of on-the-job injuries and fatalities. Cost is one of the biggest barriers to adoption because many of these technologies — both hardware and software — represent a substantial initial investment.
The innovations are relatively new, which means the costs are higher now than they might be in a few years. The introduction of this technology also means that there isn’t enough information available to project a potential return on investment, though more autonomous technology research is becoming available each year.
Additionally, there is the problem that not everyone wants to be the one to test out the industry’s latest toys. Many people prefer to wait until the methodology has been thoroughly tried and tested. In the meantime, though, accidents and fatalities that organizations could prevent are essentially being allowed to happen.
Monitoring Construction Site Health
While it might seem like an unnecessary step, as the technology becomes more affordable, monitoring construction site health will likely be standard practice to prevent injuries and illnesses. The innovations are available, though many of them are in their infancy. The construction industry will likely start to see the benefits of this technology in the coming years.
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.