If you are managing a construction company, you are without a doubt concerned about the safety of your crew. Construction accidents are a common occurrence and they happen for a variety of reasons, including some of the tools that workers work with. In fact, worldwide every second more than 10 workers have a work-related accident and there are more than 13 job-related deaths each day in the US alone. With that in mind, you may want to be aware of some key advances in wearable technology that will keep your workers safer and make your crews more effective and efficient.
Technologies are entering the market that
Which Wearables Are Right For You?
The simplest and least expensive category of wearable safety technology for construction workers is radio-frequency (RF) tags. These tags will keep track of each worker's position with high precision. For example, the Redpoint Real-time Location System (RTLS) uses indoor GPS to locate workers within 8 inches. The system is embedded in a conventional safety vest and will alert the worker with flashing lights and tactile warning if they are entering an unsafe area.
Supervisors can monitor the locations of the entire crew on a PC with each employee's ID number and symbol displayed on a map of the site. The software will help you identify potential improvements in workflow, such as eliminating bottlenecks and other time management issues as well as hazard avoidance. A similar product, Spot-R by Triax, is a belt-clip device about the size of a pack of cards that will monitor worker location and allows for self-reporting of accidents and system-wide evacuation alerts. Spot-R will also automatically report metrics like man-hours, productivity, and safety issues, reducing the time supervisors spend on record keeping and freeing them up to provide real-time supervision.
Smart helmets are another category of wearables that not only enhance safety but productivity as well. The DAQRI Smart Helmet features a sophisticated sensor suite with four cameras providing 360-degree viewing, inertial navigation, and object recognition and tagging. The DAQRI combines a wrist-worn touch device with the viewing glasses to provide a "4-D" status report generating system, which has a virtual reality feel to it.
The helmet, of course, includes hard-hat type protection and a full face safety visor in its design. Even something appearing simple, like the XOEye - which looks like a pair of safety goggles with a small camera attached, becomes incredibly powerful when combined with cloud technology and mobile devices. Workers can capture and share status on mobile devices, sharing pictures and videos when needed. This can enable a junior technician in the field to stream video of a repair or installation back to an experienced technician who supports many field techs from a remote location. The captured video can also be used for training purposes.
Full Body Protection
For heavy duty tasks, there are a variety of wearable exoskeletons, which mechanically support the wearer's back and limbs. Some appear to be simply advanced back braces, some are cleverly designed tool holders which allow workers to wield heavy power tools as though they weighed nothing. At the far end of the spectrum are full-body exoskeletons such as the unpowered FORTIS by Lockheed Martin and the fully powered, hydraulic HULC by Lockheed Martin in partnership with Berkeley Robotics. The latter is in a class of military-grade systems capable of allowing the wearer to lift about 200 lbs and still walk at 2 mph. Systems like this were pioneered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the late 1990s and are still working their way towards commercial maturity with the greatest advances being for medical applications. Still, if you have tasks that need the strength of a machine and the finesse of the human touch, this might be just what you are looking for.
With any of these technologies, there are issues to consider such as the learning curve, the long-term and short-term costs, and even acceptance and privacy issues. These factors should be weighed against the expected benefits when considering whether to adopt wearable technology on construction sites.
Thanks to Tom for his contribution to our A.H. Harris Construction Blog!