Construction continues to be one of the most dangerous industries. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that in 2021, 985 workers lost their lives on the job, the highest of any industry.
There is some good news. In 2021, the fatal injury rate for construction, based on the number of fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, dropped to 9.2, its lowest level in the past five years. But far more needs to be done. Technology plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of your jobsites. Here are 5 ways it’s working for safety-savvy contractors.
1. Increase situational awareness on the jobsite
Machinery incidents are a big factor in jobsite fatalities. Getting struck by a machine or object accounted for 13% of all deaths in 2021. As a result, anything that improves awareness of where people and machines are on the jobsite reduces risk. Technology makes that possible.
When I worked as a surveyor, I was on foot on the jobsite setting stakes, checking grade and trying to keep away from blind spots around the equipment, using hand signals and hoping to make eye contact with the operator in the machine. Nobody ever really knew where I was. Today, surveyors and field engineers can wear a badge that sends signals when they’re too close to machinery–a vibration, a flashing light, and an audio warning. In the cab, a system can alert the operator of the person’s location on their screen.
Behind the scenes, near misses can be tracked so management can find solutions to repeated jobsite problems or operator issues and improve safety proactively.
2. Remove survey crews from the jobsite
Machine control allows you to remove survey crews from the jobsite and reduce operator fatigue. For example, in a solar farm installation when you’re setting steel post after steel post, you can guide the machine on the sleeve to the drill head, set the pin and have it automatically move to the next point. Similarly, machine control for graders, excavators and dozers, as well as innovations in reality capture, reduce the need for grade checkers in the field.
The ability to control total stations remotely thanks to advances in automation also makes it possible for much of the surveyor’s setup work to be done from the truck instead of the field. This is far less dangerous than working in and around heavy equipment. Once the total station is located on the jobsite, surveyors can hop back into the truck to complete the setup.
3. Improve trench safety
In 2022, the U.S, Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration increased enforcements after 22 workers fell victim to trench collapses in the first six months of the year, surpassing 15 in all of 2021. 3D machine control and scanning technology makes trenching far easier and safer.
As a surveyor I would have to get down in the trench or lean over and try to capture the data. Now with tools like the Leica iXE3 machine control solution, excavator operators don’t have to get out of the cab to check their work or rely on a surveyor to check it later. Instead, contractors can use 3D models and GNSS for real-time cut/fill indications on the control panel. All the points are captured and the hole is filled as you go, instead of leaving it open for the surveyor to do his work. This also eliminates the hazard of holes left open overnight.
In addition, with the iCON gps 70 T you can measure and stakeout points with increased safety because you don’t need to keep the pole vertical or level the bubble.
4. Keep people away from heavy machinery, off heights, and on stable ground
One of the reasons construction remains such dangerous work is the hazard of capturing measurement data on and around large piles of dirt while working around heavy machinery. Contractors have already begun using drones with photogrammetry to minimize the “boots on the ground” required for data collection, but a more accurate approach is to use laser scanning. Fully autonomous flying laser scanners make it possible to capture all the data you need at the required accuracy while keeping workers out of harm’s way.
Similarly, surveying vertical rock faces historically required rockfall mitigation and careful planning to mitigate the risk of falling. Now, drones with laser scanners can capture data without placing people in danger.
5. Avoid unnecessary travel
Driving 2D and 3D plans back and forth to a jobsite is not only inefficient, it’s dangerous. Transportation incidents ranked second behind falls as a cause of workplace fatalities. Leica ConX, a cloud-based collaboration platform, allows mangers to send plans over the internet, monitor machine control operations remotely, and share job data with stakeholders.
Technology comes at a price, but a poor safety record translates to higher insurance premiums, limitations on the types of work you can perform, and higher employee turnover. No one wants to get hurt and no one wants to see a coworker get hurt. Information about safety lapses spreads like wildfire through the industry. A poor safety record can even shut down a small contractor. In 2023, using technology to reduce fatalities and injuries in construction just makes smart business sense.
About the Author
Bruce DuVall has more than 10 years of experience applying technology to improve productivity and efficiency in the construction of roads, bridges, power plants and gas refineries. As sales representative for Leica Geosystems, Heavy Construction, part of Hexagon, Bruce specializes in paving and alpine solutions. He is ready to help you master your most challenging projects.