Happy New Year to our blog reader(s)! We trust you have had a great break and are now full recovered from the festivities and looking forward to the year ahead. To take your mind off the tediousness that is the Brexit-obsessed news media, we're returning to our series on "What's the future for construction?" I'm glad to say that Peace has been ahead of the game in this respect, with at least one major newspaper reporting on the use of exoskeletons and prophesying how they are going to change the face of construction as we know it. They most certainly will, egged on by the desire to use technology rather than humans to make what has traditionally been a dangerous industry more safe. Which, coincidentally, is the subject of today's blog...
The Health and Safety Executive’s 2018 report on workplace fatalities in the UK tells us that 144 workers were killed in 2017/18. The industry with the most deaths is construction, with 38, compared to 29 in agriculture and 25 in manufacturing. The most common form of death is falling from a height, with 35 fatalities, followed by being struck by a moving vehicle (26), being struck by a moving object (23), being trapped by something moving/overturning (16) and contact with moving machinery (13). Annually, the HSE tells us that some 3% of those working in construction sustains a work-related injury.
We know construction is dangerous. Although the long-term trend of workplace deaths is downwards, anything that can help reduce the numbers being killed (and, of course, injured), is to be welcomed. This is where many of the technological changes described in my previous blogs have a key part to play.
One of the most useful of the new developments is drone technology (of which more in my next blog). Drones can hover over and inspect construction sites, identifying potential hazards, monitoring everyone working on the site to make sure everyone is working safely – or equally importantly, not doing anything that might be dangerous.
Exoskeletons and power-suits, the subject of the third part of this blog series, are already being used to help workers lift and carry objects or use heavy tools for long periods while minimising the stresses on the body.
VR and AR are also proving very useful in the battle to reduce injuries and death on our building sites. By simulating real workplaces and hazards VR allows site workers to experience dangerous situations without any risk of real harm.
Big data are also increasingly important in construction. Site sensors allow us to monitor noise levels, temperature, dust particulates and potentially dangerous chemicals, thus reducing workers’ exposure to dangerous compounds or situations. In addition, safety vests and hard hats can incorporate computers, sensors, GPS and real-time locating systems. Hard hats can be equipped with solar chargers and safety vests can have kinetic chargers. Safety vests can also incorporate an airbag that inflates if the wearer falls. Data from all these devices is then accessed in real time via the cloud so site supervisors can see what’s happening to all the staff across the site.
Then there is smart clothing (also called e-textiles) that can monitor breathing, skin temperature and heart rate. Such wearables track movements and posture and can also determine if the user is fatigued or under the influence of drink or drugs, thus helping predict accidents before they happen.
Another area where technology can help reduce accidents is self-driving vehicles. Some of the major manufacturers of heavy construction equipment have developed autonomous/remote control machines. By physically removing the operator from vehicles/equipment we can thus reduce, if not eliminate, injuries from rollovers and equipment malfunctions.
Finally, although the most important reason for developing technology to improve safety is to reduce deaths and accidents, there ought also to be a financial benefit from the reduction in personal injury claims and overall insurance costs. Saving lives means saving money – what’s not to like?
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment