The Construction World I Never Imagined 15 Years Ago by Phil Epifano

Phil Epifano is helping construction companies build smarter and mitigate safety risks with wearable networked technology. With more than 15 years of experience in the construction space, Phil held a variety of positions prior to joining Triax, ranging from estimator to project manager, at organizations including Turner Construction; Tischler und Sohn; and Fentrend. Phil holds a B.A. from the University of Colorado at Denver.

I come from four generations of construction and have worked in the industry since my early teens in a variety of roles from laborer and estimator to project manager, and even a short stint in insurance compliance. I have worked for general contractors as well as subcontractors, and knowing both sides of construction, and understanding the many roles involved in completing a project, has been invaluable for my journey with Triax.

It’s amazing, to me, to see the shift and transition in construction over the past 15 years. There have been vast improvements for bridging communication and coordination gaps using new digital platforms and tools. Platforms like Autodesk’s BIM 360, PlanGrid, and Procore, along with many others, have assisted with streamlining job site procedures and simplifying the documentation process. Now that the job site has gone digital in the RFI, submittal, and CO fashion, it’s time to focus on tools for automatically collecting site productivity and safety data.

This is where the construction world is still at a loss. Globally, construction labor productivity has grown annually at a rate of 1% over the past two decades, compared with 3 to 4% across other sectors. McKinsey estimates that closing this gap – partly by using new tools and solutions – would increase the industry’s output by $1.6 trillion per year. As everyone in construction knows, each project is different, and you will never come across the same schedule, contract, site layout, manpower needs, safety risks or other challenges. What’s particularly surprising given today’s digitally connected world, however, is that the tools that work for managing one site have not been adopted industry-wide to manage other sites.  Another thing everyone inside – and outside – the industry can agree on is the need to prioritize safety. As a Project Manager for 2½ years, I saw my share of near-misses, and spent countless hours ensuring proper PPE was worn and correct safety procedures – like being tied off in certain areas – were followed.

Safety and productivity go hand-in-hand; you can’t have a productive job site without having a safe job site, and a safe jobsite with real-time visibility into worker activity, daily operations and safety incidents is a more streamlined and efficient jobsite. Not to mention the lost time and lost morale than can occur on an unsafe jobsite where accidents occur.

Here are some of my key safety and productivity takeaways from my 15+ years in construction:

  1. It takes company-wide commitment. A truly safe culture requires an organizational dedication to talking about issues and promoting and implementing best practices. From the laborers to the workers through the safety directors, superintendents, risk managers, and upper management; everyone has an equal role in creating a safe project and responsible site culture. Empowering each level with the tools to report and communicate unsafe practices, and analyze various incidents on a trade, incident type, project or company-wide basis is essential.
  2. Maximize Toolbox Talks. Maybe it’s because of their catchy name, but toolbox talks can sometimes get a bad or dismissive rep. This is the wrong approach. These talks as well as morning “stretch and flex” sessions are the natural time to check in with workers, see how their day is going, ask about their family, and make safety personal. Everyone has someone they want to return home to at the end of the day and reminding each worker of that can help them buy into safety protocols. We’ve found toolbox talks to be especially good opportunities to introduce new technologies, educate workers on how to use new devices, and open the floor for any questions or concerns they may have. Morning “stretch and flex” sessions are also a great time to check that everyone has proper PPE and is being safe and compliant.
  3. Create a formal safety incident log. Quickly reporting and documenting any safety incidents that occur on site is crucial. Many companies consider documenting injuries a burden, and that’s why technologies are available today to streamline the process. Consider Spot-r, for example, which automatically records the who, what, when and where of safety incidents, and allows for custom notes or photos to be added. With emerging safety technologies, there is really no excuse not to have robust, accessible data that can be drilled into to help identify root causes. Knowing is the first step in better response and protocols in the future.
  4. Be proactive with your data. The construction industry currently captures so much data from each site, yet lacks the tools to analyze and interpret them on an enterprise or industry-wide level. Time and time again we see the same issues and incidents – lost man hours, scheduling conflicts, safety issues – occurring on job sites across the country. It’s essential to dive into the data to review and analyze past projects. Did most incidents occur in the stairwell during December? Is Friday more dangerous than Tuesday because workers are eager to get home? What age group or trade is at the greatest risk? Having the data to answer those questions means that your site can proactively adjust to help prevent accidents from ever occurring in the first place.

I can’t say it enough: When it comes to construction, knowledge is power. It’s amazing to consider how much the industry has accomplished – and continues to accomplish – with the current lack of total workforce and worksite visibility and effective, real-time communication tools. Think of what we can do when we know about a safety incident the moment it occurs and where it happened, so we can respond more quickly and decrease the risk of compounding injuries. We will be able to build safer, smarter and faster than ever before.

Phil can be reached on LinkedIn or by email at phil@triaxtec.com.