Best Practices and Technologies That Keep Construction Workers Safe

Construction has been a historically unsafe industry with falls, overexertion and contact with objects as major contributors to worker injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, injury rates for construction, maintenance and natural resources workers are more common than injury rates for other occupations. The volume and severity of injuries in construction can lead to much higher costs, in terms of days lost on the job as well as workers’ compensation insurance rates. Yet many of these injuries are preventable with safety training and new technologies.
According to a survey by Dodge Data & Analytics, jobsite workers and supervisors agree that onsite training is more valuable than online or classroom instruction. Typically, showing a worker how to do a job safely and correctly in an actual work setting is better than simply telling them how to execute their craft properly.
For new employees, there are two types of onsite training that should be incorporated into onboarding. The first is a walk-through of responsibilities. This training will demonstrate how a new hire should perform the job and explain why certain procedures are in place. Offering the “why” can dramatically lower a new hire’s potential for cutting corners or inaccurately believing that they can come up with a faster, more effective way to do a task. The second type of training to consider is a buddy system, in which experienced workers spend time enforcing workplace procedures and policies, thus cutting down the risk of a new hire developing unsafe habits. 
Training should be ongoing, especially as comfort sets in for seasoned employees. For instance, workers are most prone to injuries and fatalities around noon, when people may become less focused due to lunch or similar break times. Taking the time to introduce staff to new equipment or doing quarterly “refresher” courses can be great ways to offer continuous training that keeps experienced employees engaged, reducing the likelihood of accidents in the long run. 
By educating and testing employees outside of their general orientation, site managers and superintendents can avoid indirect costs that are double those of direct ones. These indirect expenses can result from workplace incidents, such as time lost due to work stoppages and investigations, losses associated with recruiting and training new employees, and loss or damage to material property.
A trio of new technologies are making their way into the construction market and helping to improve worker safety. Virtual reality (VR), wearables and drones are gaining acceptance on jobsites and leading to fewer injuries, consequently driving improved safety benefits and cost savings, and far outweighing the initial investment. 
  • Virtual Reality. VR can help create a firsthand, experience-based training that workers and supervisors prefer. The technology can help capture images of existing project conditions and repurpose these images to display training environments that employees and supervisors can “walk through” to identify hazards and safety concerns. Companies such as Hensel Phelps have created this type of walkthrough to include questions based on a chosen safety manual so that workers are more familiar with hazards.
  • Wearables. Many construction companies are going beyond the common definition of wearables (such as smart watches) to deploy exoskeletons that support a worker’s body by conserving energy and avoiding any extreme strains. Exoskeletons work by transferring the worker’s weight onto the ground or other parts of their body instead of putting pressure on their back or their arms. Overexertion is one of the leading causes of disabling workplace injuries, accounting for nearly $14 billion in annual compensation costs, and can be largely overcome through the use of exoskeletons.
  • Drones. Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) provide project teams with accurate real-time jobsite data. They help supervisors understand the layout where tasks are being performed and where equipment is being used, and whether jobs are being conducted safely through photo/video feeds. According to Goldman Sachs, only 18 percent of contractors use drones today, and by 2020 it is forecast that one in four firms will use drones on the jobsite. 
Achieving sustained improvements in one’s safety culture can be difficult, but these best practices and new technologies help reduce error rates and injuries on the job, improving overall job quality and employee safety.