January 26, 2023 Everything You Need to Know About: Wearable Technology for Construction Safety
We have a bone to pick with The Jetsons.
They filled our young minds with dreams of future technology that would make our every waking moment easier. And while they got a few things right (i.e. smart watches, video calls, robot vacuums) we’re still stuck dressing ourselves and walking to get from one room to another.
While there’s no guarantee we’ll see flying cars replace the dull earth-bound versions, or switch from grocery shopping to 3D food printing, we’re heading in the right direction.
Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting tech advances that are making the construction industry look a lot more Jetsonian.
The Low Down on IoT
It seems hurtful to refer to some devices as “dumb” but if your watch is just telling you the time that really is dumb as hell. It could be telling you how you slept last night, receiving phone calls, letting you pay for coffee with a tap of the wrist. The Internet of Things (IoT) is about taking devices that don’t traditionally have connectivity and equipping them with tech such as sensors and the ability to transmit and receive data.
Sprinkler systems that adjust their water output based on the weather forecast. Fridges that track expiration dates and show you what’s in your fridge remotely (so you stop buying jars of salsa only to come home and discover you already had three open jars because this happens to you every time). Air purifiers that assess allergens and pollutants and adjust accordingly.
Smart homes are just the beginning. Cities are integrating IoT devices like traffic lights that respond to real time congestion, and street lights that also detect open parking spots and can direct drivers to them. The city of Chicago even equipped their snowplows with GPS that fed location data to an app so the citizen could see that, no, the mayor’s street was NOT in fact getting plowed first as was popularly believed.
And who is going to build these smart cities? A smarter-than-ever construction industry. Welcome to the IIot or Industrial Internet of Things. A Polaris report on the global connected worker market predicts it will grow from $4.21 billion USD in 2021 to $24.32 billion USD by 2029.
Benefits of wearable technology
A lot of that market is in intelligent wearable technology that benefits both the business by providing data and analytics, and the worker by increasing safety and reducing workplace accidents. Occupational Health & Safety magazine identifies the six top benefits to worker safety from smart wearables as:
- Better visibility into the real-time safety status of workers, with cellular and satellite connectivity so no one is ever out of touch even when they’re out of sight. This could be especially helpful when managing worksite evacuations
- Using the data collected to identity trends (eg. correlations in type, time, location of accidents) and make proactive and predictive safety decisions.
- Measuring and reporting is automated, so there’s no delay in getting data to decision makers, and responders arrive fully apprised of conditions.
- Jobsite efficiency. When monitoring can happen remotely you decrease the number of employees required onsite, and lower safety risks accordingly.
- Compliance reporting happens in real time, eliminating audit headaches. Some insurance companies even offer lower rates to companies who provide them with
- Layered communication: automated no-motion, fall detection, and missed check-ins lead to automatic alerts being sent, even when an employee cannot communicate.
Some of the latest technology construction companies can leverage to minimize their risks and maximize their effectiveness look straight out of a sci-fi movie. (Although hopefully not one of those sci-fi movies where the robots become sentient and immediately try to overthrow us.)
Exosuits and Exoskeletons
A wearable suit that supports and increases the strength of the worker while protecting them from strain. It shields the body, improves posture and makes sure motions are performed in an ergonomically sound way, as well as bearing the weight of heavy hand tools. Also makes you look badass, like Iron Man.
These provide the wearer with a heads-up display feeding them information such as:
- hazard identification
- warn of co-workers hidden from sightline
- provide an interactive 3D map of the jobsite with real-time location of people and equipment
- provide onsite injury diagnostics
- give information about proper handling of hazardous materials
They also broadcast the worker POV to management and off-site experts, allowing for better information sharing and communication.
Just like driving your car charges its battery, these babies harness the kinetic energy produced by walking to self-charge, and even charge other devices. They come equipped with GPS, which can help locate workers in an emergency, and also helps track workflow and identify inefficiencies. Pressure sensors in the sole help to detect falls and shocks and automatically call for help.
Smart hard hats and helmets
These combine many of the functions seen in other smart construction gear, from tracking tools to sensors to AR. With fatigue detection via sensor bands, visors that can display blueprints, “bump alerts” that warn you when team members and equipment are nearby so you don’t bump into them, smart helmets amplify the safety of the traditional hard hat and increase efficiency.
Workers wear a small device on a band around their upper arm that continuously measures physiological indicators to improve worker safety. Feedback on factors like core temperature, heart rate, exertion levels, to prevent heat exhaustion and identify workers who need a break before fatigue causes an accident.
Low(er) tech AI for humans
Even without making a larger scale investment in new-fangled equipment requiring training and an adoption curve, there are ways to harness technology to improve the experience of your human employees. Digitizing your systems allows you to use AI for things like data aggregation, analysis, and reporting, in a fraction of the time it would take a person to do it. Identify trends and inefficiencies which would be invisible to the human eye and you can predict problems before they happen. It’s not quite jet pack territory but it’s pretty cool.