4 Minute Read
December 7, 2017
Construction is one of the world’s most dangerous industries. Though contractors worldwide have long been committed to working safer and more efficiently, this means consistently reevaluating operations to ensure the highest health and safety standards.
Regularly adopting new safety strategies, holding consistent meetings, implementing new protective gear and equipment, and leveraging the latest technologies are key to quickly mitigating hazards and ensuring uninterrupted business continuity.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it brought new, substantial obstacles, forcing some firms to go so far as to briefly withdraw all labor from sites to minimize risks. The industry quickly became aware of the need for quick education and better worksite policies to reduce infectious disease spread on job sites. All the while, long-standing hazards like slips, falls and collisions with machinery continued to merit regular attention. Health and safety issues have increasingly been in the spotlight, and the construction industry has doubled down on safety.
As a result, several new tools and strategies have emerged to make construction safer. Here are seven key safety trends contractors should know about.
One of the most noteworthy recent changes in construction health and safety practices is contractors’ adherence to local, state and federal COVID policies or implementation of their own. Balancing productivity with worker health has proved challenging amid the pandemic. Many sites had to reduce capacity or pause operations altogether and regulatory guidance frequently shifted, especially early on. Formal, detailed company policies provide a solution.
OSHA has withdrawn its emergency mandatory vaccine program. However, some construction companies have opted to issue in-house policies on pandemic-related measures like face masks, social distancing, vaccination statuses and health checks based on local COVID rates.
Having a written policy and communicating it to workers helps contractors provide a clear picture of expectations. Similarly, they can point to the same guidelines when enforcing these policies.
Another trend gaining traction is using wearable technologies to monitor worker safety. Many hazards are difficult to detect before it’s too late, like how improper handling techniques cause muscle injuries and joint stress. Devices like connected wristbands and helmets can record early warning signs to alert workers before these things happen.
Wearables today can analyze data like heart rates, body heat and more, providing a real-time picture of worker health. When they detect someone at risk of over-exertion or similar hazards, they alert the employee and manager. They can then take a break or correct their posture or adjust equipment as necessary, preventing injuries before they happen.
Some new construction management trends address both safety and efficiency simultaneously. Modular construction and prefabrication are quickly becoming an industry standard. While these methods are primarily a waste reduction and productivity improvement strategy, 89% of modular construction adopters say it’s demonstrated safety benefits.
Prefabrication provides a controlled environment, where it’s easier to automate dangerous tasks or assemble parts of buildings and structures away from the dangers and environmental elements of the live job site. Distancing employees from the most hazardous work reduces the number of on-site workers for final assembly, making it easier to avoid sudden injuries and maintain adequate social distancing amid the pandemic.
While construction sites have traditionally suffered from poor day-to-day communication, that’s changing. Construction management teams often hold daily safety huddles to reinforce safety standards and procedures. Now, these regular meetings can include real-time data captured from connected, cloud-based construction management software to provide better health and safety insights. This gives supervisors the power to draw on real, tangible figures to show successes or areas of improvement without guessing. It can also keep all project stakeholders informed of developing hazards or previously unknown issues.
Technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, instant alert systems and augmented reality provide even more real-time visibility. This visibility and easy data sharing keep everyone informed of hazards and potential accidents and remind workers of new policies. Devices like this also enable easy communication despite loud workplaces.
More and more, heavy machines and innovative technologies are doing the work that years ago would take a lot of physical human effort. But it’s not just people that need regular health checks, it’s the machines and technologies powering today’s jobsites that need attention as well.
As worksites have become more equipment-heavy, preventive maintenance has become more important. On top of being costly and stopping operations, machine breakdowns can endanger their operators and other nearby workers. More emphasis on proactive maintenance and IoT-based monitoring has offered a solution.
IoT equipment monitors can alert workers about when a machine will need maintenance, informing more accurate repair schedules. Using this data to hold regular, electronically recorded maintenance checks provides more insight into machine repair. Firms will then prevent breakdowns, and if something does happen, they can look back to see who was in charge of repairs.
Another construction safety trend that has increasingly been in the spotlight—especially amid the pandemic—is workers’ mental health. More construction workers die from suicide than any other workplace-related fatality combined, with suicide rates as much as 3.7 times the national average. Construction also has the highest rate of heavy alcohol use and one of the highest illicit drug use rates of any industry.
These issues predate the pandemic, but they have taken center stage as isolation, job and pay disruptions, additional work stress, and more brought attention to mental health issues. In response, more firms are making mental health a safety priority.
Some construction industry associations and organizations have created projects and programs to help contractors recognize employees in crisis to respond faster. Similarly, more firms are offering training to educate workers about mental health issues, including sharing resources to help those struggling in this area.
These trends point to safety as a whole becoming a larger focus for construction management. Consequently, more construction companies are performing regular checks and audits to stay on top of trends and enforce new safety policies. Here too, is where technology is lending a hand by streamlining safety data and workflows into real-time reports to make the auditing process virtually seamless.
These regular checks also include ensuring teams meet any applicable regulatory and insurance qualifications. Safety is not just a concern at the contractor level. Project owners, government entities providing construction contracts and more are emphasizing safety. Many new bids and contracts now call for enhanced technologies and measures to ensure worker safety and mitigate risks. Governmental regulations will likely tighten, making these checks more important.
Regularly reviewing safety policies also helps reveal any emerging issues so firms can stop them faster.
While these construction safety trends emphasize different strategies and areas of focus, they all require continual monitoring and record-keeping. Construction management teams need easily accessible, consolidated places to store and check real-time and historical safety data. They can catch trends and enforce policies more effectively when they do that.
Connected construction management solutions like Trimble Construction One give teams the tools they need to capitalize on this data. Trimble Construction One is a connected, cloud-based suite of construction management solutions that provides role-based access to real-time information across the organization. All these data-heavy and visibility-reliant safety trends become easier to implement with that foundation.
Trimble Viewpoint lets teams record real-time data as it appears and access it when they need to, and it informs strategic decisions to make workplaces safer. Worksites can then mitigate safety obstacles that have plagued the industry for years.
Safety will always be a prevalent concern for the construction industry. The sector will always involve risk, but new strategies, tools and technologies continue to save lives.