We’ve seen a lot of advances in construction safety, especially since the federal government established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1971. Despite these advances, the construction industry is still one of the most dangerous places to build a career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction fatalities rose by 5% in 2019, making it the deadliest year on record since 2007. New technologies are always emerging to help us make the job site safer for our teams. What new technologies are working to make construction sites safer in 2021 and beyond? Below describes the top technologies being used in the construction industry.
You might think of drones as toys or tools for photographers. However, these airborne devices have proven themselves useful in a number of industries. Companies like Amazon and UPS are exploring them for package delivery. Emergency services can use them for search and rescue. Also, the military can use them for scouting, and conservationists can use them to monitor plant and animal life.
There’s even a drone on Mars right now, though it doesn’t look like the models you might be used to seeing here on Earth.
In the construction industry, drones can be valuable assets. Depending on how you equip them, they can monitor job site progress, deliver tools and supplies to workers high off the ground, or inspect the project for safety issues. They can even do some of these tasks autonomously.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR & VR)
Both of these technologies may have started life in the gaming industry, but they can be incredibly useful in construction.
Virtual reality immerses the user in a fully virtual environment, allow them to use controllers or hand tracking to interact with it. This can be useful for training, letting new team members learn the ropes without putting them or others at risk. It can also allow designers to “walk” through a virtual version of their creation before they ever break ground.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, projects virtual artifacts onto the real world. NASA uses augmented reality, paired with the wearable Microsoft HoloLens, to aid in spacecraft construction.
On a construction site, you can access these projections through wearable devices or even something as simple as a cellphone camera. We can use these projections to see how a finished project might look on an undeveloped lot or compare the completed project to how it looked in the blueprints.
Many of us already utilize wearable devices like Fitbit or Garmin for tracking things like steps or heart rate. Similar devices can also be useful on construction sites to help improve safety. Wearable sensors can detect whether a worker is too close to a piece of heavy equipment, triggering that machinery to shut down until the worker moves away.
Sensors can detect ambient or body temperature and warn both employees and supervisors if someone is at risk for heat-related illness. Sensors in the brim of a hat or hardhat can detect physical fatigue, which can help prevent accidents in equipment operators and laborers alike. They can even be used as an incentive to help keep your team healthy and active, by setting up friendly competitions for tracking steps taken or miles walked in a week.
The push toward self-driving cars won’t just prevent traffic jams and make your morning commute less frustrating. This sort of autonomy can also help improve construction site safety by removing the potential for human error in the operation of heavy equipment.
A fully autonomous bulldozer, cranes, or other machinery can keep track of nearby employees by using cameras, sensors, or a combination of the two, changing their paths or ceasing operation entirely if someone is at risk.
These devices don’t necessarily need to be fully autonomous. It can complement what skilled operators are already doing, with the goal of making their jobs a little easier. Auto-grading software, for example, can control the blade of a bulldozer by making small adjustments automatically while the operator drives. This ensures the grade is correct, without having to worry about stopping to measure in the middle of the job.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
The Internet of Things are networked devices connecting both to the internet and to one another and they make our lives easier. In the home, smart outlets let you monitor power usage and shut off “power ghosts” remotely. Smart garage door openers let you open and close the door with your smartphone, no matter where you are. Also, smart thermostats help you save power by automatically adjusting the temperature when you’re not home.
The same technology can make construction sites safer and their name is the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT.
IIoT sensors can prevent accidents between workers and equipment, This is achieved by alerting operators if someone is too close to their rig or even shutting down the machinery if necessary to prevent an incident.
On the equipment itself, IIoT sensors are capable of alerting operators or supervisors if there is a problem they need to address or a repair that needs to be completed before the equipment is safe to operate again.
Exoskeletons might seem like they belong in a science fiction story like “Iron Man” or “Elysium,”. However, they’ve begun to make an appearance in a number of industries that require heavy lifting or repetitive movement. Due to their performance, they have now become one of the top technologies used in the construction industry.
Construction workers wear robotic skeletons on the exterior of their clothing. They provide assistance to the user by helping them lift heavy loads correctly to prevent injuries. It can also be a valuable tool for those at risk for repetitive stress injuries as well.
According to industry experts, the robotic exoskeleton market will be worth $1.8 billion by 2025. These skeletons do represent a significant investment, with a single exoskeleton costing thousands of dollars each. However, when they prevent accidents and injuries on the job, the return on investment can be compelling.
The Future of Construction Safety
The construction industry may be one of the most dangerous places to work currently, but it doesn’t have to be. These new technologies can help protect workers and improve job site safety for years to come.
Rose Morrison is a real estate and home improvement writer and the managing editor of Renovated. She’s most interested in sharing home projects and inspiration for the most novice of DIY-ers, values she developed growing up in a family of contractors.