Field Technologies that Promote Infrastructure Jobsite Safety
May 10, 2022
When it comes to construction, you can never be too safe. When it comes to infrastructure projects, they can present jobsite safety hazards and concerns that are different from those you’d typically find in a large building project.
In addition, working on retrofitting infrastructure projects poses further challenges as many structures are being identified with their own instability risks. Crews assume a lot of risk every time they set foot on such jobsites.
But construction safety is changing and gradually improving. This is happening in part because construction companies are starting to leverage technology — both in the field and the back office — in their efforts to reinforce jobsite safety practices. Several kinds of technology show promising signs of effectiveness and adoption.
Drones to promote jobsite safety
Immediately identifiable by their compact helicopter-like form, drones are proving to be quite the versatile jobsite tool. Contractors are using them in place of humans to conduct the kind of structural safety and quality assurance inspections that would normally pose serious risk to life and limb.
With their agility and precision, drones can easily ascend skyscrapers and access other hard-to-reach areas to capture photos and video as proof of compliance or progress. Inspections become not only faster but exceedingly safer by completely removing the risk of a severe injury.
These aerial devices are also being put to use a bit closer to the ground. They become an extra set of eyes scanning for both physical and environmental hazards as they survey the jobsite in advance of a project. Once construction has begun, these drone “eyes” can also watch over workers throughout the project’s footprint to ensure they’re not getting too close to a known site hazard.
Wearables that enhance jobsite safety
As jobsite tasks become digitized, so too is personal safety gear. Regular jobsite apparel that workers already wear — hard hats, boots, vests — are becoming “smart” as technology is incorporated into them without restricting movement or a person’s ability to perform job tasks. The interesting thing about these wearables is that they’re designed not only to help prevent injury and death, but to respond and alert in real-time if something does happen.
The safety applications of these embedded technologies are remarkable, especially when time is of the essence. For example, special sensors in hats and vests can monitor air quality, and in some cases detect carbon monoxide, giving site personnel plenty of time to notify personnel to leave the area so the situation can be addressed before letting work begin or resume in the impacted area.
Knowing where team members are at all times through GPS gives contractors and site personnel the heads up when anyone is approaching or entering an unsafe area. For a worker who has not registered movement for a period of time and may not be able to communicate, location-tracking helps pinpoint their location to ensure their safety. This type of value is truly priceless.
Now watches, never considered a form of safety equipment, can be added to the list of wearables. The same technology in smartwatches that tracks heart rate and sleep cycles can be used in the industry to detect breathing difficulty, irregular heartbeat, heat exhaustion, and falls. If any of these occurs, on-site staff are automatically alerted so they know when a break is needed or if medical attention should be dispatched right away.
Wearables that don’t fall into the clothing and accessory category — such as badges and attachable sensors — offer the same capabilities, further adding to the list of ways field technologies can be used to help keep workers safe. Overall, wearables are gradually gaining traction, becoming a regular part of the construction ensemble as more site workers use them year over year.
Site sensors increase jobsite safety
Site sensors, also known as smart sensors, have jobsite safety-improving functionality similar to those found in wearables. When placed all throughout a jobsite, they monitor the work environment to protect personnel. These sensors are able to detect nuances in site conditions that humans can’t such as:
- Changes in air quality that can cause respiratory issues
- Unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in the air that can impact workers’ short- and long-term health
- Temperature changes signaling overheating or a fire
- Rising humidity that can indicate a leak that needs to be repaired
Real-time monitoring by these site sensors makes it possible to notify workers to the pending threat and possibly evacuate. It also enables the contractor and other site personnel to proactively manage and mitigate the effects of these compromising conditions on worker health and safety.
Laser scanning for jobsite safety
Laser scanning is a type of surveying. Using light beams from a safe distance away, laser devices collect structural dimensions that will serve as the source data to create 3D models (BIM), reduce clashes or assemble as-builts for retrofits or repairs.
Without laser scanning, site crews would be susceptible to spending days or weeks physically capturing the same information in a potentially dangerous area — like a hazardous waste plant, an unstable structure or a large-scale bridge — and therefore extending their exposure to a physically and/or environmentally unsafe area.
Field technology data for future jobsite safety
While the real-time value of field technologies in terms of promoting immediate jobsite safety is clear, it’s the data they collect that can also have a far-reaching impact. Some of these field technologies have corresponding software and/or apps that help track and collect data that can provide insights into the efficacy of current safety management and how to improve jobsite safety and preventive measures in the future. These insights can reveal:
- Ways to focus jobsite safety training
- How to improve compliance with OSHA regulations
- How frequently workers may need breaks in order to avoid fatigue
- How to enhance communication with on-site workers as safety risks surface
- What field technologies make the most investment sense
- How the field technologies have impacted injury and fatality rates over time
- The impact of these field technologies on project outcomes
As they continue to evolve and more construction companies incorporate them into their overall jobsite safety management program, there’s undeniable promise for the safety impact of field technologies.