When most people think of “wearable technology” they think of consumer favorites like Google Glass or the Apple Smartwatch–fun toys, but hardly practical construction safety tools. A few construction technology visionaries, however, see it as an answer to a problem that has long plagued the industry: Worker safety.
The Challenge of Construction Safety
The construction industry remains one of the most dangerous businesses in the world. According to OSHA, 21.4% of all worker fatalities in the U.S. in 2015 occurred in the construction industry. That’s almost a quarter of all worker deaths happening to our people!
There are several factors, aside from the physical nature of the work, that makes the construction site particularly hazardous:
- Size of the site, which can be vast.
- Complexity of the site.
- Presence and operation of heavy equipment.
- Presence and movement of heavy and otherwise hazardous materials.
- Difficulty of communicating and enforcing the use of personal protective equipment and other safety procedures.
- Presence of multiple trades and subs, with limited communication among them.
- Constantly changing nature of the site and its features.
- Lack of visibility into the location and activity and movement of each person and piece of equipment in each area of the site.
Dale and Chad Hollingsworth, the founders of Triax Technologies, felt that if they could solve the problems of connectivity and visibility, then they could substantially reduce the impact of all of the other factors in this list. And they saw that wearable technology could be the solution.
How Wearable Technology Solves the Visibility Problem
Through their company, the Hollingsworths developed wearable tech called Spot-r, that provides unprecedented visibility into the most important aspects of worker safety on the job site. Spot-r is a wearable clip that connects to a site-specific, proprietary wireless network, that Triax sets up, providing several safety monitoring benefits.
A job site with Spot-r technology is divided into “zones,” all of which are connected to the site’s wireless network. Workers are issued Spot-r clips while on the job site, that communicate continuously with the network, providing visibility into the zone location of every worker on the site.
One of the technology’s primary functions is that it senses when a worker experiences a slip, trip, or fall incident, and sends a real-time notification to the database or as a text message to the designated recipient, usually a super or PM. The super or PM can see immediately where the worker is and send help. This improves response time and ensures that slip, trip, fall incidents are reported immediately and every time, not only when there is a severe injury.
Because falls are the leading job site hazard, causing 38.8% of all worker injuries, this function alone provides a major boost to job site safety.
Additionally, Spot-r has a self-alert button that workers can press in the event that they experience a non-slip, trip, or fall injury, such as cuts or particles in the eye, or if they see a hazard on the job site. This provides them with a direct line of communication with a safety supervisor or PM, and provides the super or PM with the ability to respond and address hazards proactively.
Finally, Spot-r provides a site-wide evacuation function. In the event of a catastrophic safety situation, such as a fire, bomb threat, or other site-wide hazard, Spot-r can be used to send a loud alert to every worker on the site, urging them to evacuate immediately. This eliminates the delays associated with sirens, word of mouth, and older notification systems.
The just-released Spot-r EvacTag enhances this feature by offering the first plug-and-play construction-specific solution designed to alert workers to an evacuation. The EvacTag is designed to augment current evacuation procedures with a high-decibel, highly visual alert.
The Benefits of Wearable Technology for Safety
Spot-r and similar technologies improve response times, as well as make it easier to proactively respond to potential hazards. But the benefits don’t stop there.
- Slip, trip, and fall incidents are identified even if the worker is alone or unconscious, and unable to call for help.
- Minor repeat incidents can uncover ongoing hazards, such as a pit that workers are jumping into instead of using the ladder, for instance.
- Spot-r provides an automatic headcount, making time and attendance checks simple.
- Saves the super or PM several hours a week by providing instant information and location spotting.
- Encourages and rewards behavior modification, improving long term safety.
- Improves evacuation speed, making it possible to evacuate a large and busy site in a matter of minutes.
Some of these benefits can be seen in the use of Spot-r at a 12-story New York City housing project. During Spot-r’s first month of use, it recorded 13 potential safety incidents. After several days of recording fall data from a particular zone, the assistant safety superintendent determined that several workers were jumping into a 3-foot pit, instead of using the ladder that was a few feet away.
The super used the information to engage the workers in a larger conversation about the company’s commitment to safety, and reinforce the company’s safety best practices.
By month 2, the number of slip, trip or fall incidents fell to 3 total, all unrelated to jumping into the pit, and fell to 2 total in month 3. In terms of accident exposure, this represents over a 300% decline from month 1 to month 2, and a further 33% decline from month 2 to month 3.
These reductions were due in part to the behavior modification encouraged by the technology, as well as the improved communication and site safety culture.
And lest you think that wearable technology is a cost sink for your company, think again. At another site that previously relied on manual headcounts and visual checks for time and attendance, the project manager reported saving 3-4 hours per week with Spot-r’s automated headcount and location information. When you consider that a project manager makes roughly $95 an hour, that amounts to $285-380 a week in manpower in savings.
Spot-r by the Numbers
- 300% decline in accident exposure in 2 months
- Approximately $300 per week savings in man-hours
Challenges to Wearable Technology on the Job Site
Wearable technology like Spot-r faces two big challenges on today’s job site: User adoption and interoperability.
1. User Adoption
Some workers are concerned with privacy when it comes to new technology solutions.. Fortunately with Spot-r, this challenge is easily overcome by helping the workers understand the many safety benefits the technology provides to them. Additionally, the technology is not GPS and disconnects from the network when workers leave the site, , removing any concerns of offsite monitoring.
Another big challenge for wearable technology is the issue of interoperability. While the Spot-r technology is easy to use, many supers and PMs are already overwhelmed with multiple platforms and technologies that they are expected to manage on a daily basis. If they have to switch between applications to access information, they’re less likely to do it.
For organizations using BIM 360, the interoperability challenge is over. An integration between the two technologies allows PMs and supers to view the location of workers inside the BIM 360 construction management platform, including where they are relative to 2D and 3D drawings of the site.
This removes the friction and data loss caused by switching between apps, and further improves overall visibility.
Diving Deeper into Construction Technology
Want to dive deeper? Check out the ConTechCrew’s chat with Chad Hollingsworth at Autodesk University 2017: