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Technology can help make the jobsite safer

By Troy Dahlin

Increasing the use of technology on the jobsite can help turn what consistently ranks among the top industries for injuries and fatalities into one of the safest.

Jobsite safety is the centerpiece of any project, touching every aspect of the process from site preparation to construction to inspection.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that roughly one in five worker fatalities in private industry in 2019 happened in the construction industry. The number is particularly startling considering that construction represents a mere 8 percent of workers in the United States.

While occupational fatalities dropped from about 38 per day in 1970 to 15 in 2019, the construction industry hasn’t experienced the same trend. The Center for Construction Research and Training found that construction recorded more than 1,100 fatal injuries in 2019, roughly three daily fatalities.

Several factors make the average jobsite dangerous, including poor visibility, continually changing conditions and the use of large equipment in often tight locations. A constant pressure to meet deadlines and budgets adds to the stress and can make the jobsite even more dangerous.

Regardless, it’s well past time for the industry to address and seek to reverse this trend.

Worker safety must be central to the jobsite

Reducing worker injuries took on new importance following the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed in 2021. Safety is a wise investment that pays dividends, and a contractor’s safety record often plays a role in deciding who wins a contract.

Most estimates peg the average cost of a construction-related injury at roughly $27,000 per injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveals that an occupational fatality costs roughly $990,000, including medical expenses, worker’s compensation, and potential litigation.

Costs extend beyond an injury or fatality. Mishaps often lead to disruptions, if not a total work stoppage, increased insurance premiums, potential attorney fees and higher employee recruitment and training costs.

However, companies can make a modest investment on the front end and potentially lower their costs.

According to OSHA, companies can expect upwards of $6 in savings for every $1 they invest into high-quality safety programs. These cost savings result from fewer illnesses, injuries, and fatalities, ultimately improving jobsite productivity.

How do companies view safety?

Companies often opt to address — and ultimately pay for — problems as they arise. Instead, they should invest in strategies to prevent them — and reduce costs in the process.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, companies re-energized their focus on workplace safety.

One study found that construction companies spend an average of 3.6 percent of their budgets on workers’ compensation, while a lesser amount (2.6 percent on average) goes toward safety training.

A Dodge Data & Analytics survey revealed that nearly 80 percent of construction companies’ effective safety programs lead to an expectation for better insurance premiums and terms. That increases to 90 percent when looking at top-tier contractors.

While many contractors acknowledge the need for further safety protocols, according to a National Safety Council study, nearly six in 10 (58 percent) construction workers say project safety takes a back seat to productivity.

One easy way to achieve a focus on safety is holding regular “toolbox talks.” Supervisors should jump at the chance to remind their teams about the potential risks on the jobsite and share prevention strategies. 

Technology offers endless safety benefits

Beyond protecting workers, a safety program can also result in better insurance terms.

A workplace culture prioritizing safety helps lower a company’s experience modification (MOD) rating, resulting in lower insurance premiums. In addition to that immediate benefit, lower insurance premiums often help lower companies’ bids and are often the tiebreaker when deciding on a winning bid.

More than any other option, the widespread deployment of technology across the jobsite provides excellent safety opportunities, whether GIS navigation technologies, wearables utilizing IoT, utility detection, or advances in machine control.

Safeguarding workers in a highly dynamic jobsite is nothing new. Personal alert systems include collision avoidance protection, creating avoidance zones and developing “as built” scans of projects to ensure they are built as envisioned and reduce the likelihood of mishaps resulting from construction mistakes.

Companies can go a step further and automate data collection on the jobsite. Just consider collecting information about near-misses on the jobsite.

Companies typically only collect a fraction of incidents if they rely on workers to report near-misses. Workers may not bother because it takes time away from other duties; they may view it as an adverse event or not as a near-miss.

Using technology helps capture those daily, surprisingly frequent episodes with documented precision. The data helps inform safety planning decision-making.

The best companies invest in safety

Jobsite safety should be of particular interest to civil and structural engineers. For workers to complete projects as planned, job sites must first emphasize safety.

Regardless of their size or specific project focus, the most successful companies make it a point to continue investing in safety initiatives. These companies recognize it as a mandatory expense for maintaining their position as leaders within the industry and as players for high-reward contracts.

The ongoing talent shortage has no end in sight. Since safety plays a significant role in helping companies attract top employees, why wouldn’t companies protect their investments, especially considering the super-tight labor market?

Safety and the technology supporting it are the foundation of a business-winning strategy. Companies should no longer view the correlation between an effective safety program and company success as separate; they are the same.

Safety goes far beyond protecting valued employees. It marks an advanced company confident in its operations.