EDVY Closes April 26th! Enter Now Top Link
Home > Technology + Innovation

Technology is the key to revolutionizing the jobsite — and making it safer

By Troy Dahlin

So many people talk about how technology is reimagining the jobsite. Whether drones, reality capture, or machine control, there’s little debate about technology’s role in the modern jobsite in enabling efficiencies in time, materials, and resources. 

The discussion, however, should also center on the larger role technology should play to keep the jobsite — and everyone on it — safe.

The industry is at a turning point as the next generation of workers takes leadership roles within companies. Undoubtedly, younger generations have a different relationship with technology — we see the conversation in our daily lives; civil and structural engineers need to proactively bring that same discussion into their professional lives.

The tendency in any profession is to rely on what’s worked previously, rather than rocking the boat. While approaching the jobsite “the way it’s always been done” works to a point, civil and structural engineers have an opportunity to reimagine the job site and make it safer for everyone in the process.

The only certainty is uncertainty.

Whether it’s the shortage of skilled workers or the onset of new technologies, a new job site has emerged over the past few years.

These changes have led to some level of uncertainty.

That sentiment is borne out in the latest data from The Civil Quarterly (TCQ) from Dodge Construction Network, produced in partnership with Infotech and Hexagon. Respondents identified various factors contributing to feelings of uncertainty, including shortages of skilled workers and increased regulations.

To tackle these concerns, roughly half of the civil contractors and civil engineers surveyed said they would allocate more resources toward recruitment. However, only a small proportion mentioned investing in technology.

The widespread deployment of technology on the jobsite can fundamentally change operations for the better — and in the process, make the jobsite safer. While there are multiple ways to achieve a safer jobsite, having technology as the enabler allows teams to chart the solutions they want to deploy on the jobsite.

Addressing safety today doesn’t only mean physical safety; it’s expanded to include mental health.

The seen and the unseen.

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal an often-overlooked threat facing the industries: suicide and, by extension, declining mental health.

CDC numbers reveal the construction industry’s suicide rate is one of the highest of any industry. However, the official numbers may not fully capture the scope of the crisis.

In 2016, the suicide rate of 49.4 per 100,000 for men in the “construction and extraction occupations” was roughly double the suicide rate for civilian working men between 16 and 64 years old in 32 states (27.4/100,000). It was also five times more than the construction industry’s fatal work-related injuries rate of 9.5/100,000 in 2018.

It is difficult to say what is causing the elevated suicide rate, and the CDC suggested additional research to understand why the rate is higher for construction workers. Anecdotal evidence points to job strain, long work hours and other “psychological risk factors,” including depression and stress, contributing to the rate.

What is happening on the jobsite today?

Reshaping the jobsite requires reexamining every aspect of the construction process, starting with site preparation. On the modern jobsite, companies must look at site prep as more than moving dirt because the success of a project starts before the first shovel turns any dirt.

Historically, many people in the industry start working before they perform the checks to ensure the job site is safe. Unfortunately, these operators function based on what they know and what they have done their entire careers.

What happens is that crews often find discrepancies or errors after they’ve started to move dirt. That means rework, and companies start losing money.

Technology is the game-changer that can help improve safety, and it starts with focusing on the root causes. If job strain and long work hours are among the leading causes of worker suicide, firms should look at solutions that reduce those factors.

Solutions like machine control and total stations help teams easily capture jobsite intelligence and complete tasks quicker, allowing them to spend less time on the job site.

Additionally, performing utility detection checks before starting excavation work can lead to a safer jobsite, while potentially saving millions of dollars. While site preparation teams often focus on avoiding costly mistakes, the costliest mistake a company can make on the job site is not taking safety seriously.

Data collection will help companies track the risks.

The true benefit of technology is the opportunity it gives companies to know everything happening on the jobsite. For that knowledge to be useful, companies must maintain it in a format they can easily reference and guide their operations.

A growing use to improve operations is the collection and analysis of safety data.

However, Dodge data revealed that companies aren’t harnessing the power of data-driven safety. The report confirmed that large companies are collecting safety data, but not enough are using technology to accelerate the data collection process, minimize human error, and derive analysis from the data collected. 

According to the Dodge data, most civil contractors (93%) gather safety data by manually filling out forms. The percentage holds true for small, mid-size and large companies.

Paper forms manually completed must be entered into a system to allow for impactful analysis, opening the door to potential mistakes. Not enough companies opt for solutions like wearable sensors or site access technology to ensure the data they collect is accurate.

About half (47 percent) of civil contractors think collecting and analyzing jobsite safety data is too time-consuming, the Dodge data revealed, which is not surprising given the common use of manual processes. Shockingly, 10 percent of civil contractors aren’t collecting any safety data.

Technology augments a company’s biggest investment: its people.

Often the most important investment isn’t a piece of equipment or technology. Instead, people are the most significant investment and what truly powers an organization.

Engineering firms often don’t realize how much technology can help improve their operations until they meet with a provider and test solutions.

For a company to be successful, it is important to prioritize the well-being and safety of its employees. Deploying these solutions will help avoid those mistakes and help save money, but the most significant savings are realized with a focus on the team.

Earlier data from The Civil Quarterly (TCQ) showed that only about a third of contractor respondents (34 percent) said their companies have “good access to resources that help address mental health issues.” When asked about their organization’s state of mind/mental health compared with five years ago, twice as many civil contractors (36 percent) report improvements than worsening conditions (15 percent).

While this survey is specific to civil contractors, it’s likely indicative of the entire construction industry.

The uptick could result from the relatively high levels of job security or even the increasing attention to mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, more work is needed.

Technology cannot remove all risks from the jobsite or guarantee a worker’s safety. However, it can potentially make the jobsite safer by removing at least some of its risks.

Contractors cannot afford to stand idly by and watch the industry’s changes. They are not observers of these changes; they are actively involved in them.

It’s time to embrace the current technology today and lay the foundation for the industry of tomorrow. Only then can we start to make the jobsite safer.

Troy Dahlin is vice president, heavy construction segment, US/CAN of Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon. For more information, please visit www.leica-geosystems.com.