In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry had a monthly average of 350,000 job openings and 400,000 hires. The problem in the construction industry is not related to hiring individuals. Rather, it lies in keeping them safe and productive.
A staggering one-fifth of U.S. workplace fatalities are associated with the construction industry. That may not seem like a large proportion until we consider that construction takes up only five percent of the overall US workforce.
With new emerging technologies, OSH management can combine automation, cameras, and other smart devices to help mitigate workplace safety hazards and reduce the amount of deaths.
14 Types of Emerging Construction Safety Technologies
There are 14 categories of emerging technologies used by OSH management in the construction industry. These technologies are expected to improve workplace conditions and safety levels in a few ways. These include reducing human contact with hazards, providing better visuals, and testing dangerous scenarios using 3D virtual reality models first.
The new technologies are:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Building Information Modeling
- Smart Camera Systems
- Digital Safety Signage
- Immersive Reality
- Laser Scanning and Imaging, Detecting, and Ranging
- Onsite Mobile Devices
- QR Codes
- Radio Frequency Identification Tags
- Single-Task Robots
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
- Wearable Sensing Devices
Understanding How Emerging Technologies Are Used in Construction
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the development and use of intelligent machines to perform tasks normally completed by human beings. AI can provide automatic approaches to identify, predict, and mitigate fall hazards. It can also monitor, visualize, alert, and react to other dangerous onsite threats.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a virtual process that offers many advantages to project stakeholders. It involves using design and construction elements in a virtual model that can be worked on at a safe distance. BIM allows personnel to report near-hits, aiding managers and supervisors in detecting and mitigating possible hazards. BIM-based tools let workers integrate the design, planning, and scheduling processes.
Smart camera systems consist of a network of smart operating cameras with optimal placement to achieve greater coverage for improved monitoring of specific job sites. The cameras prevent limited vision and awareness of workers’ whereabouts to help them avoid injuries. They also monitor safety performance and control site hazards.
Digital safety signage is a digital addition to physical signage. It provides alerts, signs, and lights as safety warning messages in a digital format. Digital signage can remind workers of necessary safety protection or PPE, and it offers precautionary tips to perform tasks safely.
Exoskeletons are rigid external coverings, similar to body armor, that support and protect a workers’ tendons and neuromuscular systems. They keep proper posture during bending, loading, dynamic lifting, and lowering.
Immersive reality, which most know as virtual reality (VR), creates an inclusive experience through images, sound, and other stimuli. These 2D and 3D visual aids improve worker perceptions and job site hazards.
Laser Scanning and Imaging, Detection, and Ranging (LiDAR) uses laser beams to capture dimensions of physical objects, turns them into point cloud data, and then transforms them into a 3D model. Using pictorial representations, LiDAR helps workers identify blind spots of heavy construction equipment. It also takes accurate measurements of heavy construction equipment, so workers don’t have to risk injury doing it themselves.
Onsite mobile devices are used for hazard identification, which leads to mitigation. They provide real-time access, enable rapid incident and near-miss reporting, and support safety inspection using pre-loaded apps.
Photogrammetry is an engineering discipline used to collect information on objects which can then be analyzed and studied in further detail. It enables accurate virtual environments to ensure safe work operation.
Quick Response (QR) codes are 2D barcodes that are scanned. They can be linked to websites or other applications to provide a contactless approach to equipment and devices. They have become handy for job sites, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology uses electromagnetic fields to track tags attached to items. RFID tags are fixed to PPE and safety gear to identify real-time locations and warn workers of hazards.
Single-task robots use robotics to perform tasks that a human would normally perform. These robots can do highly dangerous activities like welding to further the safety of human workers.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are aircraft operated by nonhuman elements. They are operated by ground-based controllers, nonhuman pilots, or onboard computers. UAVs eliminate the need for humans to climb high elevations and risk falling at a jobsite.
Wearable Sensing Devices (WSD) are electronic devices that can be attached to humans as accessories, embedded in clothing, or through mounting. At a more extreme level, WSDs can be implanted into human bodies. They can be used to monitor oxygen and temperature levels in confined spaces and send warning signals to the worker and their supervisors.
Key Safety Benefits of Emerging Technologies
These fourteen emerging technologies benefit OSH management and provide the construction industry with four main benefits, including:
- Improving worker awareness of hazards
- Warning workers of workplace threats
- Eliminating risks during design
- Helping visualize workplace hazards during development
Using these technologies in the construction industry improves worker and jobsite safety. They also curate key performance and safety metrics that can be used as resources and benchmarks for construction management to reduce work-related fatalities.
Karakhan, A.A., Nnaji, C.A., Jin, Z., How Technology Can Improve OSH Management in Construction, Professional Safety