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Productivity issues plague the construction industry’s bottom line at a cost of billions of dollars each year, according to a 2020 study published in Construction Engineering and Management. Where labor can account for a significant percentage of project costs, and with much of the industry shifting toward the delivery method of Integrated Project Delivery, significant effort will be focused on maximizing workforce productivity. Simply improving the efficiency of on-site labor during the execution phase can decrease the risk of cost overruns and reduce delays, producing significant savings. 

Fortunately, the industry can combat workforce inefficiency through innovative technologies, such as IoT sensors, which help improve the communication, workflow, safety and overall productivity of the jobsite. Contractors are increasingly connecting these devices between workers and to equipment and key areas of the jobsite, generating critical information on how labor and resources are being utilized and how they are interacting with the environment. This enables them to increase productivity and shorten project timeframes, which ultimately help improve the bottom line. 

Here are four ways that innovative contractors are doing just that using wearables and other sensors to improve productivity.

Identifying and Eliminating Workflow Bottlenecks

Workers spend an enormous amount of time waiting around on jobsites—for supplies, tools, information and other subcontractors to complete tasks ahead of them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. construction industry employs nearly 7.5 million workers at an average industry salary of $32.16 per hour. Based on a 40-hour work week, that means each minute of each day accounts for more than $1 billion of production value to the industry per year. 

The attendance and worker location data collected by IoT wearables can help managers better understand workflow and determine if they have the right tradespeople in the right areas to complete the task on time. A single delay often triggers ripple effects across the entire project. For example, an understaffed HVAC crew could prevent a team of bricklayers from closing off a wall encasing the duct work on time, slowing progress on each ensuing step. Connected worker solutions give project managers the insight to identify shortages of skilled labor in specific zones and distribute workforce accordingly.

As an example, one construction firm noticed there was a bottleneck around the hoist. It collected data from worker wearables and a sensor on the hoist to gain insight into the problem and figure out whether they needed to add a second hoist. The contractor was able to track how long workers waited for a hoist, and not only determined that it needed a second one, but also that it would be more efficient to dedicate one hoist for heavy equipment and the other for workers.

Locating Equipment and Optimizing Utilization

Often multiple crews share equipment on large jobsites. Time spent tracking down a tool is a suboptimal use of skilled labor, and by using sensors to track equipment in real time, site supervisors can quickly and easily locate the equipment that is needed. Additionally, by tracking how often—and how far—workers have to go to get equipment, project managers can determine where to best place these tools to avoid wasted time and maximize efficiency. 

Many jobsites require significant investment into rental equipment. Contractors can also determine how much time equipment and tools are actually being used, which is particularly useful to identify additional equipment needs for rental or purchase, or conversely identify unnecessary or unused equipment. 

Identifying and Addressing Safety Issues

It’s impossible to overstate how crucial worker health and safety is and its impact on human lives. In addition to those overarching concerns, safety and health issues also contribute directly to lost time, potential delays and worker compensation claims, which are among the highest of any industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Forward-thinking contractors are using wearables and other sensors to reduce safety incidents and exposure to health risks. Wearables provide real-time alerts to workers as they approach hazardous or restricted areas that have beacon-based sensors. Additionally, these connected jobsites allow workers to identify and report safety issues in real time and enable managers to activate evacuations and other worker safety alerts. 

Site supervisors also use the sensor data to keep workers safe. For example, by tracking the amount of time employees spend in hazardous areas, site supervisors can limit their exposure. Additionally, in the event someone tests positive for COVID-19, supervisors can use the sensor data tracking close interactions to quickly and accurately identify the specific individuals who may have been exposed, and avoid complete operational shutdowns, associated costs and delays. 

Improving Cost Assessment For Future Bids

By analyzing the data on how long subcontractors spent in certain areas to complete tasks and how many workers were needed to accomplish specific tasks, contractors have a historical record that they could use to more accurately bid other jobs. 

Using data that is automatically collected from wearables and other sensors not only enables contractors to gain insights into workforce productivity and equipment usage, but also to understand the interaction among workers, the equipment and the jobsite environment. Armed with this information, they can identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks that they can fix, and respond with data-driven decisions, such as shifting on-site labor and tools to other zones or projects where they can be more productive. This real-time knowledge on a jobsite, with so many moving parts, enables contractors to work smarter, streamline the workflow and positively impact the bottom line.

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