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Worker safety remains a top industry priority. In May 2018, during the fifth annual Construction Safety Week, more than 80 construction companies and industry partners joined forces to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that each worker returns home safely at the end of the day. Running simultaneously with OSHA’s National Safety Stand-down to Prevent Falls, these two initiatives highlight every individual's contribution to safe outcomes at the jobsite, regardless of their job title or role at an organization. In the fast-moving, results-oriented construction industry, these events serve as a reminder to break from the task at hand and focus on the constant safety risks on a jobsite as well as the small choices that have a big impact on safety. 

These events become more important in light of industry safety statistics. Despite employing about 4 percent of the U.S. workforce, construction accounts for about 21 percent – or more than one in five – of private industry fatalities. In 2016, which is the latest year for which Bureau of Labor Statistics are available, the majority of those worker deaths – almost 40 percent – resulted from falls. In addition, non-fatal injuries and illnesses resulted in 82,760 days away from work, which negatively impacts employee morale and productivity in addition to health and safety.

Jobsite safety is a responsibility that crosses job functions, and it depends on everyone’s actions, including what executives and managers say and do, what employees see and say, and what tools workers have to actively participate in their own safety. 

World-class construction firms continue to prioritize worker safety, starting with management’s commitment to continuously improving and investing in new safety initiatives and technologies. Leading contractors use every opportunity to promote safety, implementing morning huddles – no excuses – and using the time as an opportunity to focus on a different hazard (falls, struck-by hazards, electrocutions), check for proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and discuss evolving site risks. Each construction site is unique, and almost every day on a construction site is different from the last, with changing structures, tools and machinery, so it’s important that workers, supervisors and visitors know exactly where the muster point is. A true safety culture requires participation from everyone, and when every worker’s voice can be heard, and every individual is held accountable for his or her actions, a true safety culture can be achieved. 

One key area that is making a difference is the internet of things (IoT) and other emerging technologies deployed at the jobsite, especially as projects become more complex and the workforce more diverse.

The data tell the story

Over the last twelve months, the construction industry has undergone a tangible shift, as executives and industry partners increasingly prioritize innovation and champion leading-edge technology. The spread of wearable technology, sensors and drones at the jobsite provides critical new visibility into workers, equipment, tools and environmental factors on site. By collecting data and sending it to the Cloud in real-time, these technologies are connecting supervisors with more timely safety information, detecting hazards and other unsafe conditions, identifying risky behaviors and trends, and unlocking new insights that, in time, will increasingly help predict and prevent safety incidents. 

This emerging network of devices and data collection points is the cornerstone of the first truly connected jobsite, and its implications to safety are significant.

The connected jobsite provides real-time visibility

In the field, the connected jobsite is connecting supervisors with previously unavailable information on workers, resources (equipment, materials, tools) and their physical site – all in real-time. By using drones for job hazard analysis, for example, contractors can inspect roofs or windows to identify unanticipated issues that might pose an additional hazard and can prevent unnecessary risk exposure for workers. In addition, wearable devices can detect falls that happen on the job and automatically notify personnel about who fell and where the worker is located to help reduce the lag time between when an incident occurs and when help is deployed. This same technology, when coupled with equipment sensors, can provide visibility that can further promote safety, informing supervisors who is near equipment or machinery and whether they are certified to safely operate it. 

For workers, the connected jobsite provides new tools to participate in the safety process. Mobile tools provide workers with a direct line of communication to supervisors, allowing them to report issues from anywhere onsite without having to yell or rely on a personal cell phone. Wearable devices act as a sort of a 21st century “buddy system” – albeit a bit more sophisticated and rugged – that ensures a worker is never alone on the job and can detect and report issues in situations where nearby workers may unfortunately be too injured or far away to call for help. 

These IoT-enabled solutions also give executives on or offsite a more complete, data-driven picture of daily operations, safety, resource management and overall progress. With an objective record of what’s happening on one site, or across an entire region or portfolio, safety executives and risk managers can stay on top of safety hazards and use real-time safety indicators to measure, control and prevent future incidents.

Working toward a safer future

In construction, change is the only constant. A transient workforce, moving materials and equipment, and evolving structures lead to oftentimes unpredictable and inconsistent conditions on the jobsite, which also means unpredictable and inconsistent risks and hazards. Fortunately, the latest, IoT-enabled solutions are connecting jobsites – and the industry – to actionable safety insights. With critical site visibility, the industry can take a data-driven approach to safety identification, documentation and response. That will enable construction firms to further their key goal of protecting each and every worker.

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