How Jobsite Tech Poses Safety Challenges in Construction

How Jobsite Tech Poses Safety Challenges in Construction

Here’s why what happens in the field shouldn’t stay in the field.

With the growing risks in jobsite safety, organizations are turning to technology more than ever. However, not all solutions are helping. In some cases, technology is presenting risks of its own. Specifically, the abundance of technology, especially mobile solutions, without a way to make the information it captures useful for the entire company.

The ubiquity of low-cost digital tools and apps as well as the rise of AI make it easy for project managers and site supervisors to download their technology products of choice off the radar of the CIO’s or CTO’s office. Along with app sprawl, shadow IT and security risks, this creates jobsite safety gaps.

For example, now it’s simple to capture jobsite conditions with photos, videos and notes in real-time instead of relying on memory when manually filling out the daily log at the end of the day or replace illegible paper sign-in sheets with digital attendance forms. Another time saver is the ability to log on to see the status of projects instead of driving from site to site. And if a digital form for a particular process doesn’t exist, it’s simple for anybody on the jobsite to create one in minutes on a smartphone.

Cracks in the Digital Foundation of Jobsites

This is the modern-day jobsite, suffused with technology but rife with disconnected sources of information. This is due to multiple projects using several digital tools, many with overlapping features. Those digital tools contain information that is helpful to workers across the company, from jobsite crews up to the C-Suite. Except that the way technology is used in these examples results in silos of information and forgotten field notes. Also, for those many jobsites that still rely on handwritten forms, there’s the potential for human error as admins re-key information collected from the jobsite into a platform like Procore, for example.

Now imagine an OSHA investigation, a lawsuit or a client’s outside legal counsel and insurance agent requesting documentation that local and state mandates are being followed. In these very common situations, the ability to gather the right information—and have confidence in its veracity—can be and will be time-consuming, taking hours, if not days and weeks, depending on the complexity of the inquiries.

During this time, parts of the jobsite or the entire project may be shut down, impacting productivity and profitability. Frustration mounts as the C-suite knows they have the right information but cannot get a complete picture in a reasonable amount of time, thanks to information spread across a variety of spreadsheets, PDFs, apps, desktop files and more. 

Gray Work Creates Safety Risks

The time squandered in search of that information is known as “gray work.” Along with elevating safety risks, gray work eats into the productivity and profitability of jobsites.

What could this look like? Aside from investigations and lawsuits, there are everyday jobsite occurrences where gray work’s impact on safety is apparent:

  • Construction labor shortages could force a reassignment of workers without proper certifications. This can further derail projects and result in fines, or worse, injuries. Yet, a holistic view across the company’s training and certifications data would have identified more skilled workers and a better redeployment of all workers across projects. 
  • Another example is safety incidents that are captured but not immediately shared or used as an opportunity to teach and retrain. Therefore, the same issues reoccur.
  • The third example is a post-storm clean-up and the resulting jobsite hazards. In these situations, dangerous environments such as downed power lines or destabilized structures (homes, buildings, scaffolding, etc.) may be appropriately identified and documented, but the information from the field is not immediately delivered to key stakeholders in the office.

These are just a few examples of how disjointed processes and systems can potentially lead to safety gaps.

Now consider that construction technology shows no signs of slowing. In fact, $50 billion was invested in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) tech between 2020 and2022, representing an 85 percent increase over the previous three years, according to Pitchbook. While there’s no question that technology can make construction more profitable, reducing unnecessary work is critical to getting the most from those investments. Solving the associated safety risks comes down to connecting the field to the office, making information from across the company centralized, accessible and useful for everybody.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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