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Many contractors and construction owners are not taking advantage of technology that can help them improve jobsite security.

For example, at a recent meeting of a national trade association for construction owners, Zurich conducted an informal and unscientific poll of attendees about security issues. More than 40 percent of respondents said they have had a security event on a jobsite in the last 12 months, and more than 60 percent said it was “critical” to know where and when contracted workers were onsite. However, only 6 percent of construction owners polled said they were currently using RFID or other technology, such as wearables, to track workers on and off the jobsite

For safety managers and risk managers who are interested in capitalizing on some of the benefits of wearable technology but don’t know where to start, using wearables as part of a jobsite security program is an application that offers low-hanging fruit, particularly on sensitive sites where security measures must be robust and well documented.

Broadly speaking, a wearable device system includes the device that captures information while being worn on the employee, either as part of a piece of clothing or in safety equipment (such as a hardhat or vest), and transmits it to a data collection system. More sophisticated wearable technology systems can capture and monitor data in real time, such as determining workers’ precise locations in the event of an emergency.

The data from wearables can be used for tracking total hours worked as part of an owner-controlled or contractor-controlled insurance program, and can be valuable in helping determine the facts of a liability or workers’ compensation claim. Wearables can provide a digital information trail about where an employee was at a given time, which can be important for determining whether an incident happened during the course of wrap-up work or as part of other work, or who was onsite when a theft occurred. Beyond these basic applications, wearables can help monitor quality and improve the productivity and efficiency of a jobsite by tracking how far workers have to travel to perform certain tasks or improve the scheduling of trades so they are not working on top of each other.

Implementing wearable technology requires a considerable investment and many contractors may question whether they will achieve a worthwhile return, such as a reduction in the frequency of fraud or liability claims. For contractors that specialize in working on sensitive sites that require heightened security, minimizing the risk of a severe claim arising from a security incident may be worth the investment in wearables. On sites such as existing facilities with sensitive information (e.g., government or military buildings or sites with high-value equipment or at-risk people like a children’s hospital), making wearables part of the site security program can help meet and exceed owners’ expectations about site security and possibly avoid a multi-million-dollar claim that can put a company in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Before getting started, here are five things to consider.

  1. Vet workers. Wearable technology may not prevent workers from going where they shouldn’t go or doing something they shouldn’t do. When working on a site where workers will have access to sensitive information or at-risk people, it may be a good idea to perform background checks for everybody that will have access to the site. The last thing a contractor needs is to have a worker with a criminal record working on a site when a security incident occurs.
  2. Assess needs. Determine what the security requirements of the job are and what type of wearable technology is needed. Do workers simply need to be monitored when they are onsite or offsite? A basic RFID badging system may suffice. Or is it necessary to know exactly where all employees are at all times? In that case, a system with GPS technology may be needed. More advanced systems also can monitor if a worker has suffered a fall or an impact.
  3. Establish a strong site perimeter. Ensure the site’s boundaries are well-established and site access points can be well controlled through physical barriers such as gates and fences that can be easily monitored. This fundamental requirement for sensitive jobsites is even more important when wearables are part of a security program. Basic wearable systems rely on funneling people, materials and equipment through defined access points, and more advanced systems employ cameras and motion detectors that already may be part of security apparatus.
  4. Audit the system. Many vendors will provide the monitoring that is part of a wearables system. Make sure to test the accuracy of the monitoring in the early stages of a project and perform monthly spot checks after that.
  5. Determine who owns the data. Once a project is done, the relationship with a wearables vendor may end, but there will be a need to retain the monitoring data for some time into the future. Make sure language and protections around data ownership are clear in the contract with the vendor.
Like any new technology tool, wearables also introduce new risks to an organization that need to be understood and carefully managed. Wearables are connected devices in the Internet of Things, and therefore increase exposure to cyberattack. Additionally, unless workers are made to understand the safety benefits, they may resist adopting technology that makes them feel like Big Brother is watching. For construction risk managers willing to overcome these challenges, wearables can play an important role in helping improve the security of sensitive sites.

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