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Looking back at 2020, who would have predicted that the world would be blindsided by a pandemic? As restaurants, gyms, theatres and thousands of small businesses became COVID-19 collateral, the construction industry saw growth as renovations of single-family homes, multi-residential housing and tenant buildings increased along with commercial construction. Amid the pandemic and growth, many construction executives adjusted by harnessing technology that helped keep workers safe and enabled more efficient project completion. 

Safety on the Job

Health and safety have always been a primary concern in the construction industry. While the industry makes up 5% of the workforce, according to OSHA 20% of worker deaths each year occur in construction. But COVID-19 has shifted the playing field, resulting in employee safety being taken even more seriously. Social distancing, protective gear and cleanliness protocols have now become the norm. Hand sanitizer, masks and measured distance between coworkers have become as mainstream as hardhats, safety glasses and fall protection specific to the construction work being done.

There are technological innovations now appearing on jobsites. Companies are adopting IoT technology to promote and increase worker safety. Devices in the form of watches, bracelets and other wearable devices can communicate data behind the scenes to keep workers safe. These devices can warn employees if they are not properly distanced and can determine if they may have been in close proximity to a fellow employee who has tested positive for COVID-19, thus limiting unnecessary quarantine of otherwise healthy employees. Some can also determine where workers are if there is an accident. 

Using employee injury data such as OSHA logs to identify patterns is being used by progressive companies to improve results. Due to more innovative methods rising in the construction market to substitute manual labor, fewer human resources are needed onsite. With fewer people on construction sites, it would be easier for the foreman, safety officers and project superintendents to supervise workers and ensure all the safety rules and regulations onsite. This will also force safety managers to incorporate training into their safety programs and plans to prepare for unforeseen circumstances in the future. Things like toolbox talks are going online to automate safety training processes.

Expect increased diligence on cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection on construction sites. It is hoped that this will continue so the workers can prevent the spread of other common diseases in construction, such as respiratory problems. While COVID-19 is not the greatest risk on a construction site, it is in OSHA’s crosshairs and contractors that don’t take it seriously will see a COVID-19 compliance visit turn into a full-blown audit leading to increased fines and penalties.

Artificial intelligence

AI has the ability to reduce construction costs. It also allows project managers and construction teams to set realistic project timelines. AI can aid construction software solutions including simulations and other analyses, such as stress testing. This can serve as a powerful tool to promote safety–reducing onsite injuries and deaths. Virtual and augmented reality is also emerging safety trends in construction. These applications help to reduce the need for face-to-face interactions while modernizing industry capabilities in the process. VR can also be used as a training tool.

Prefab and Modular Construction

With smart digital technologies and prefabricated construction, project schedules and completions can be halved compared to conventional building methods. The use of modular construction involves manufacturing building components offsite. These are then transported and assembled at the site of the construction. The benefits of the construction method include:

  • reduced project costs and timelines; and
  • greater certainty in the price and quality of the infrastructure.
Virtual Design and BIM

Design technology provides the means to design and construct structures in virtual space. The technology has existed for many years, and its popularity is expected to increase in the future. Building information modeling will continue to evolve and is the future of designing, engineering, building and maintenance. In the past, BIM was a tool to develop a building in 3D, but in the last decade BIM software has matured. Now, 4D BIM aids construction sequencing in the form of an extra dimension of information to a project information model in the form of scheduling data. 5D BIM allows drawing on the components of the information model being able to extract accurate cost information. And 6D BIM allows a focus to better understand the whole life span of the project, which will allow for better decisions upfront in terms of both cost and maintenance after the project is completed.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, it’s Drone Technology

The construction industry has been one of the fastest growing users of drones and this will increase in the future. Drones allow for new dimensions of remote work and improved safety on construction sites. The aerial view of construction provides contractors with invaluable information, such as potential safety issues that can be easily identified by aerial views of the site.

Innovations in 3D Printing Taking Shape

The additive manufacturing process of 3D printing allows for the printing of any model, prototype, parts and even homes. This gives the designers and engineers a precise idea of how their project will look and whether it needs any amendment. Large-sized 3D printers are already on the horizon that that has the ability to print an entire structure, layer by layer. The use of 3D printing can produce buildings and components at a fraction of the price and time than commercial construction methods.

There is always the danger of relying too much on technology, that there exists the possibility of becoming complacent by compromising employee safety in order to become more productive. On the other hand, embracing technology in construction can be a valuable option for ensuring worker safety, increasing productivity, attracting more work and completing projects more efficiently.

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