Construction sites are some of the most dangerous working environments in the world, illustrated by the construction industry consistently leading the all-industries league table of occupational fatalities.
Fatal injuries to workers by most common accident:
Falls from Heights
Struck by Moving Object
Struck by Moving Vehicle
Contact with Moving Machinery
Tens of thousands of construction workers suffer short and long-term disability as a result of injuries at work, and many hundreds of thousands of lost time incidents occur annually, significantly reducing productivity.
The Construction industry is characterised by the need to work:
• at risk of being struck by moving plant vehicles
• at risk of being struck by large/heavy moving objects
• in proximity to overhead/underground high voltage power lines
• at risk of being struck by large/heavy moving objects
• in confined spaces
• at height
• in high noise environments
• at risk of exposure to dust and fumes (especially plant exhaust)
• with vibrating tools / machinery (HAV)
• for continued periods of high exertion or with repetitive movements
These hazards all contribute to the range of health and wellbeing issues that construction workers are exposed to every day – slips, trips & falls, being struck by falling objects, crush injuries, human/vehicle collisions, and exposure to noise, dust & fumes.
Innovation in the Construction Sector: The Case for Wearable Technology
Construction is one of the largest industries in the UK but at the same time one of the most dangerous. In addition to accidents and musculoskeletal injury, ill-health is prevalent mainly in the form of respiratory diseases, hand-arm vibration syndrome and noise induced hearing loss. It may be surprising to learn that fatalities from ill-health currently outweigh those from accidents by 100:1. Generally speaking, health and safety relies on historical data or lagging indicators which is seen as a barrier to progress.
However, a construction site presents many particular challenges; it is not as ‘controlled’ an environment as a factory setting, it is very dynamic in nature, the workforce itself is transient and risk appreciation according to the TUC is generally low. Also there is a lack of Occupational Hygiene provision; a scientific discipline that in other sectors mitigates risk by quantifying worker’s exposure and advises on suitable control methods. Plus the chronic effects of exposure to dust, vapours, noise and vibration can take many years before obvious symptoms develop, altogether presenting a complex management challenge.
As well as the obvious human costs, there are financial ones too; having people off sick means lost productivity and extra management time spent dealing with sickness and staffing. It can have an adverse knock-on effect on insurance premiums as well as prosecutions and large fines for serious breaches, compensation claims and not least reputational damage. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, 2015 together with the recently revised sentencing guidelines for offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 have put a new emphasis on all stakeholders.
The Government sets great store for economic growth and employment in the sector embodied in Construction 2025, a strategy which focuses on improving productivity, skills, recruitment & retention and not least the need to ‘treat health like safety’ and importantly change the face of construction. It sees innovation through technology as a way forward to many of these issues and the HS2 rail infrastructure project is a prime example, set to be the a flagship opportunity for change and the new benchmark for health and safety. A leading tier one contractor has commented that it “sees wearable technology being the norm by 2020” but what does that actually mean?
You are probably familiar with fitness bands and mobile phone apps that track activity and location and the Wearable Technologies Ltd.’s (WTL) solution is an extension of this technology tailored specifically for the workplace. WTL has developed an end-to-end platform that offers ‘mix & match’ sensors for noise, gas, dust, temperature & humidity in addition to posture, physiology monitoring and proximity (to moving hazards) with a mobile communication hub. These are incorporated into a smart hi-vis jacket and the data is available on a dashboard that can alert both the manager and the worker to health and safety events through centralised and local alarms. Such a digital revolution will turn the way health and safety is managed on its head through actionable insights offering cost savings and productivity improvements.
Imagine having access to ‘real-time everything’ on your mobile, tablet or desktop PC meaning you can mitigate the risk of exposure or injury and immediately investigate near-miss incidents. These often otherwise go unreported meaning lost opportunities for corrective action and improvements.
For the worker this means a visible alarm incorporated into their existing, familiar PPE which alerts them and their co-workers to surrounding hazards ‘nudging’ them to stop the task, check that they have the correct PPE or control methods or seek supervision when necessary. Records of the initial induction, on the job training or interventions can also be stored automatically via the worker’s CSCS card thus providing an audit trail.
Future developments will also enable you to head off problems before they happen using powerful predictive analytics that will point to where the next accident or exposure is going to occur.
The Millennial workforce is well disposed to adopting new technology which will drive their engagement. More participation in health & safety will bring about behavioural change, a critical success factor in delivering productivity improvements, cost savings but most importantly better health outcomes and quality of life.
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