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By Louise Morrisey
December 10, 2017
The construction industry is digitising at a fast clip. Understanding technology’s potential to increase efficiencies and workplace safety has been a key factor in the uptake of construction technologies over the past ten years in Australia.
Wearables technology is the next frontier to integrating technology on the construction jobsite and for construction workers. From a consumer standpoint, PWC reports that more than half of all Australians currently own some type of wearable device, the most popular being fitness trackers and smartwatches.
In the context of the construction industry, wearable technology must be user-friendly, affordable, and hardy. After all, it needs to survive the rough and tumble of construction work. It must also be easily transferable between workers.
Jobsite spoke to Dr. Ruwini Edirisinghe, a Research Fellow with the Centre for Construction Work Health and Safety Research at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Edirisinghe is a specialist in digital innovation (BIM), information and communication technologies (ICT), and smart technologies in building and construction field.
Growing Popularity of Wearable Technology in Construction
Dr. Edirisinghe notes wearables have experienced a growth in popularity as construction workers are often required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a safety measure.
“Wearable technologies embedded in PPE are more popular and practical because of the harsh operational conditions; they also provide better mobility and manoeuvrability during labour-intensive activities,” Dr. Edirisinghe says.
These embedded technologies can include e-textiles, as is the case of smart safety vests, smart hard hats, and smart safety glasses.
Dr. Edirisinghe notes that wearables such as smart helmets and smart hardhats are being equipped more and more often with augmented reality (AR) technology.
“AR embedded into wearable technologies is used for real-time information retrieval and visualisation applications, such as defect management and construction progress monitoring,” Dr. Edirisinghe says. They can all assist in monitoring productivity across the entirety of the jobsite.
We’re only just beginning to realise the possibilities of wearable technology in the construction industry. According to Dr. Edirisinghe, the construction worker of the future will not wear just PPEs, but Smart PPEs, or Internet of Things (IoT) PPEs.
“Researchers are working on developing a wearable kit which has a collection of online equipment with multiple PPE elements that can be tailored to the requirements of the specific operation. The suit will include a hi-visibility jacket, glasses and safety boots, the features of which will be operable from an e-textile-based sleeve.”
Dr. Edirisinghe says that the construction industry is one of the riskiest, and as such, wearables are important for managing the health and safety of workers.
“Wearables can be used to track unsafe worker behaviour in risk zones, as well as unsafe material handling practices,” she says. “They can also be used to monitor fatigue, the physiological conditions of workers, and ergonomics.”
To offer a glimpse into the future, safety features will also be extended in wearables to minimise workers’ exposure to muscle strain and injury, says Dr. Edirisinghe.
“The upper-body exoskeleton is emerging. We can envisage robotic vests that enable construction workers to lift heavy objects, which also minimises exposure to injury.”
If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy:
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