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Increasing construction workplace safety through IoT

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Injuries and fatalities on the construction site harm reputations, impact profits and delay jobs. Onsite monitoring using IoT will increase as a method to improve worker safety.

US equipment rental firm Big Rentz has outlined the number of fatalities on the construction site, based on official government figures. The numbers are shocking.

It wrote that 21% of US workplace fatalities across all industries are on the construction site and that 10% of the sector’s workers can expect to suffer some form of injury, however minor, every year. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the US in 2018, 1,008 people died on construction sites, equating to a death rate of 9.5 per 100,000 workers. Only agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (23.4) and transportation and warehousing (14) have higher per head death rates among employees.

Of those 1,008 deaths, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that the main contributors were from falls, being struck by an object, electrocution and being caught in, compressed between or crushed an object. Of those workers injured, three in 10 were due to slips, trips and falls.

33.5%     Falls
11.1%     Struck by Object
 8.5%     Electrocutions
 5.5%     Caught or compressed between object

Source: US Department of Labor, OSHA Data & Statistics

In Britain, on average 36 construction workers a year are killed whilst at work, 49% due to falls from height. Of all non-fatal injuries, about 2.4% were in construction (second only to agriculture, forestry and fishing). According to the ‘Construction Statistics in Great Britain, 2019’, published by the UK government’s Health & Safety Executive, about 2 million working days a year are lost in the construction sector due to injuries, death or ill-health, equating to an economic cost to the country of £1.2m – 8% of the total figure.

Non-fatal workplace injuries in construction versus all industries in Britain

The UK's Health & Safety Executive reports that about 54,000 people suffer non-fatal workplace injuries each year across all industries.

These figures cover the US and Britain only. Globally, it has been estimated that about 60,000 people die every year on construction sites, representing between 25% and 40% of all workplace fatalities. The Middle East has seen several construction booms in the past 15 years, particularly in Gulf countries, and is no exception to the reported trends for deaths and injuries.

How can companies make the construction site a safer place to work? One approach is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) systems to monitor workers. In future, workplace monitoring on construction sites is likely to increase and – as with automobiles and young drivers – could be insisted upon by insurance companies for more favourable premiums.

Using IoT to enhance safety is an indirect cost saving for a company, particularly in the Middle East, where there tends to be more workers employed onsite than would be the case in some other regions, due to low labour costs. With more people onsite, the chance of an accident occurring increases, potentially impacting a job’s deadlines and profit levels.

Monitoring and tracking an employee’s whereabouts could be seen as intrusive and be resisted by workers. Whilst this could be considered controversial, organisations implementing these systems say that is not the case if done transparently.

For investment in a monitoring system to succeed, employees need to understand how data produced from monitoring their movements will be collected and used, and the role it will play in improving onsite safety. Assurances need to be in place about when that monitoring stops, for instance when they leave the job site, and the benefits need to be clearly highlighted.

Wakecap Technologies provides real-time monitoring systems that track equipment and workers onsite. CEO and Founder Dr. Hassan Albalawi has said that it is important to put a value on accidents that are avoided due to improved safety. Speaking during the Construction Technology Forum, he said: “You need to bring a value to multiple stakeholders, including the workers, that allows them to embrace safety and be rewarded for that. Because getting technology into the field is the fastest solution to mitigate risk and prevent fatalities at the construction site.”

The goal for such systems is to help protect the workforce and improve onsite efficiency, so finding an advocate who will promote the benefits of the monitoring system to other workers is a good approach to getting widespread buy-in.

Mohamed Nagi, Digitization Manager at Analytica Management Solutions (part of ASGC Group) advises that companies start small, for instance by tracking workers going in and out of the site, which zone they are in when onsite, the travel time between their break areas and work area as approaches to tackling health and safety.

“Implement it phase by phase. Learn your lessons from each phase. Make sure you are giving benefits to the stakeholders and that costs allocated to the project are reasonable,” he says.

Safety needs to be considered a frontline asset for a company. As illustrated by the UK HSE figures, worker injury is expensive and can delay a job. Although still in its infancy, IoT offers companies the opportunity to monitor workplace safety in real-time and more detail. Systems will provide data that can be analysed to understand better what led to an accident and how it could be avoided in future. The challenge for advocates is to convince construction companies and workers that investment into such systems is a valuable tool in efforts to improve safety onsite.

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