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By John Biggs
October 16, 2017
Technology has affected the construction industry in many ways that make workers more efficient, reduce the time required to complete projects and enhance precision, but perhaps the most important technological innovations that have hit the industry in recent years are around worker safety.
Roadwork is a particularly dangerous job, but researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a prototype vest using radio sensors that communicate between connected vehicles and work crews alerting each to the presence of the other, greatly increasing mutual awareness and reducing the likelihood of catastrophic collisions.
The InZoneAlert vest is designed to notify drivers and workers of an impending collision within a matter of seconds, giving drivers a dashboard warning and alerting workers to the presence of a vehicle. Researchers involved in the project say this extra time can save lives.
“Any warning we can give them is better than no warning at all,” says Kristen Hines, a doctoral student who helped lead the combined effort of VT’s College of Engineering and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
But communicative vests are just the beginning. The humble hardhat is also getting a 21st century makeover. The Smart Helmet by DAQRI puts an innovative spin on a construction industry staple with enhanced data visualization and augmented reality capabilities that improve situational awareness and information distribution to ensure workers always are aware of their surroundings and can adjust as needed for maximum safety and efficiency.
The futuristic helmet includes thermal vision, giving workers a Predator-like view of temperature readings of equipment, pipes, and more. It also provides guided work instructions that can display step-by-step cues for workers to improve workers’ understanding of processes, reducing the time spent on each step and cutting down considerably on errors along the way. It even allows for view sharing with an onsite team member to offer real-time expert assistance with projects, which helps the entire crew, working together, to solve problems more quickly and easily.
The company also makes Smart Glasses that perform many of the same safety functions as the helmet, but in a smaller, face-worn package for jobs not requiring helmets.
Construction work is both mentally and physically taxing. And actively monitoring workers’ vitals in real-time while on the job can greatly reduce the risk of accidents or fatalities. A vest developed by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia uses sensors to track a worker’s heart rate and temperature, sending the data to a smartphone app that alerts the worker or their supervisor to any abnormalities.
Heat-stress is a real concern for workers spending hours per day on a sweltering hot jobsite, humid environments or in confined spaces with machinery that puts off heat, especially factoring in the physical nature of the work. Technology like vital-sign monitoring smart vests could go a long way to alert workers they may be entering the danger zone before it’s too late to prevent serious injury or death.
Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, also have a role to play in ensuring workers’ safety. From inspecting work done on high-rise structures to getting a holistic view of work performed in hard-to-reach areas like bridges, drones can reduce the number of hours human workers must spend atop these precariously high perches. Drones can also be used to hover over construction sites to ensure proper safety protocols are being followed, such as hardhat usage and safe equipment driving.
No matter how seriously companies take worker safety, construction is inherently dangerous work. These technologies being developed to enhance safety on the job should be seen as a welcome and overdue change that could over time dramatically reduce the number of job-related injuries or fatalities for construction professionals.
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