A Holistic Approach to Site Safety Culture By Bob Dolan
Inspired by the potential of wearable technology to advance safety, Bob Dolan joined Triax Technologies in 2012. Over his 35-year career, he has never experienced the kind of technological revolution — and excitement — that is occurring in construction right now.
Urban growth has driven construction in large cities since the 19th century, as first evidenced by the Industrial Revolution. As factories were built in cities, the population naturally moved to where the jobs were; A prime example of this is the population of London doubling between 1801 to 1851, as workers flocked to the city and industrial hub.Urban growth has driven construction in large cities since the 19th century, as first evidenced by the Industrial Revolution. As factories were built in cities, the population naturally moved to where the jobs were; A prime example of this is the population of London doubling between 1801 to 1851, as workers flocked to the city and industrial hub.
Today, cities are bustling once again, as easy commutes, little yardwork, and transportation options have sparked renewed interest to reside there. While many old, historical buildings still exist in cities like New York and Boston, the desired modern amenities do not, and contractors are busy with demand for new, improved, sustainable offices and apartment buildings to meet growing demand.
Needless to say, construction is booming.
I have been engaged in the construction industry for a relatively short period of time, but during that period, I have learned a great deal about how complex this industry is. I have gained a renewed respect for the men and women involved in planning, building and renovating these structures—big or small, complex or relatively simple. Those involved in construction must be able to work in an inherently hazardous, changing environment with many different stakeholders. Each day on the job, each phase of a project, comes with different risks and challenges for each different stakeholder. It is everyone’s duty to make sure workers get home safely every night, and government agencies, construction companies, tech providers, research efforts and each worker must continue to prioritize that. What sometimes gets lost in larger, philosophical conversations about improving safety, however, are the practical considerations.
Construction is a competitive business driven by demands and schedules, and getting the job done on time can sometimes affect the desire to get it done safely as well. An understanding of keeping projects going, and keeping contractors bottom lines in mind, is something I often find missing from the majority of industry safety articles and potential solutions. It shouldn’t be an either/or conversation because it’s not an either/or issue.
Tackling these varied risks—labor productivity, incident exposure, project quality—at once is the biggest challenge, and is where emerging technologies show the greatest potential. When individuals talk about improving construction productivity, they are also talking about improving construction safety; a safer jobsite—little to no lost time due to injury, injury claims or low worker morale—is a more successful jobsite.
My point is that construction improvements – and technological solutions – cannot be created in a silo or in isolation; solutions need to engage everyone from the architect to the worker to the corporate office and need to impact every stage from takeoff to project management to historical analysis.
Consider Building Information Modeling (BIM), for example. Use of BIM has grown from 29% in 2009 to almost 66% today, and supports four key business values, as outlined by McGraw Hill:
- Enables better, visual understanding of design
- Lessens problems during construction from deficient documents or coordination
- More well-reasoned design due to BIM analysis and simulation
- Beneficial impact on the project schedule
In addition, wearable technology platforms like Spot-r have the potential to overlay their workforce data on BIM to show where workers are located in real-time by floor and zone. During a critical safety event, for example, safety superintendents can check to watch workers evacuate from the top floor down to the muster point, drilling into which workers are there and improving communication during emergency evacuations and/or response.
Robust, practical, actionable technologies – designed with the construction worksite and its countless challenges in mind – can provide visibility into both sides of construction operations and risk. Safety and productivity should not be thought of as individual entities, but must be approached in a holistic manner, and sustainable solutions need to take the same approach.