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Workers Weigh Rewards, and Risks, of Wearing a Fall Response Sensor


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Courtesy of Triax Technologies.

Wearable technology has emerged as a technology to watch on construction sites, as it arms contractors and their subs with information that can help them more rapidly respond to jobsite threats. 

Wearables include sensors monitoring sites for hazardous substances, vests that deactivate heavy equipment within a set radius, and even exoskeletons reducing the risk of muscle strain. Now Triax Technologies, a safety and technology company based in Norwalk, Connecticut, is offering an Internet of Things-enabled system tackling the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry: falls. 

Tackling is an apt word indeed, given that the technology company got its start monitoring the force of head impacts in contact sports. 

“We’ve been building wearable sensors for safety since we started, and our first products tracked head impact in real time for contact sports. We built this wireless mesh network that let us communicate with our sensor and so we started looking for other industries to apply the technology,” explains Chad Hollingsworth, Triax president and co-founder. “We looked at construction and saw there was a lack of adoption of technology in comparison to other industries and almost one third of injuries on a construction site are related to a slip, trip, or fall.”

In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that out of 937 construction fatalities in 2015, 350 were the result of a fall.

“We thought if we could give a worker the ability to call for help or send an automated alert when they fell and needed help, we could make a big difference,” Hollingsworth says. 

How It Works

The system, called spot-r, is composed of three parts. Workers wear a sensor on their belts that either sends an alert automatically in the event of a fall, or can be triggered via a panic button to send out such an alert. The information is communicated across a closed mesh network setup on site by Triax technicians. Data is received on a mobile dashboard by the site safety officer. The dashboard also allows the safety manager to send to the sensor a site-wide evacuation notice in the event that the site is identified as unsafe. 

“If a worker falls down, the sensor will send an alert to a safety officer where they fell, and when, and get help quicker,” Hollingsworth explains. He adds that the self-alert button also has proven helpful in transcending language barriers. 

Wearable technology is still very much an evolving field, and even since launching spot-r, Triax Technologies is finding new use cases for it—including incident prevention.

Hollingsworth shares that he was recently on a site where workers were taking a shortcut into a pit in which they were placing rebar: the employees were jumping in rather than using the required ladder. The sensors clipped to their belts registered those jumps as minor falls. 

“They weren’t necessarily getting hurt when they were jumping in, and nine times out of ten that’s fine. But that one time you land funny and hurt your leg, you’re out. There are worker’s comp costs associated with that, and insurance ramifications,” Hollingsworth says. “The fact that you could detect when someone may be doing something unsafe on site, and you could take some preventative actions, keeps everyone safe and keeps costs down.”

As you might imagine, any technology that can give a contractor a proven safety advantage will be appealing to insurance companies. Triax is one of the tech companies in talks with insurance providers about how use of wearable technology can translate into insurance savings for contractors. 

“Insurance companies are excited about our technology because it’s going to give them data they don’t have and let them price their risks better. If they can do that, there are savings that get passed down,” Hollingsworth says.

The Real Problem of Real Time Tracking

One of the keys to this data, however, is that the system provides real time tracking of workers’ location on site. In fact, that’s where the closed mesh network comes in—it limits the range of the device to the work site so that workers aren’t tracked beyond the confines of the job. Knowing the location of all workers onsite is a safety feature that ensures everyone goes home safely. It’s also a potential productivity booster in that it allows managers to know who is where. Assuming they gain employee buy-in in the first place, that is.

But Hollingsworth explains the sensor as but one example among a growing trend toward tools that empower workers to take charge of their own safety. 

“There’s a big push right now, especially with the larger general contractors, to empower the worker to create a safer site,” he says. “Skanska gives out a business card that says ‘you’re empowered to stop work if you see something dangerous.’ We’re actually giving them a tool to do that.”

Hollingsworth has found that those workers that have been on the job long enough to see the perils of unsafe performance are among the first to agree to the tool. 

“These workers have stories of someone they know or someone they know of who had a horrific accident that potentially could have been avoided if there was a better way to communicate it,” Hollingsworth adds. “So they see this button as a tool to make their job safer.” 

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