Manufacturers’ Pivotal Role in Safety: Innovation to Put Users in Control

Manufacturers’ Pivotal Role in Safety: Innovation to Put Users in Control

Products with built-in, innovative safety features need to be ubiquitous for the construction industry to effectively improve safety across the board.

Ask anyone on the jobsite — the craftworker, tool room manager, superintendent, or an executive — what their priority is for the day, and the response will be the same week after week and month after month: safety. While this week, Construction Safety Week, is a crucial time to spotlight standards to inspire everyone in the industry to be leaders in safety, it is imperative that a deep-rooted culture of safety is prioritized by all stakeholders, including manufacturers.

While the immediate burden of implementing safety measures falls on jobsite safety managers and foremen, it’s not enough for one group to lead the charge. Now more than ever, manufacturers are uniquely positioned to deliver innovative, user-centric solutions to improve safety for every worker.

There Is Safety in Electrification

In the power tools industry, battery-operated products are shown to be safer than corded and gas counterparts.

The most obvious benefit is the elimination of cords, which are trip and fall hazards and can be cut on the job leading to fines due to OSHA violations. Beyond cords, with battery-operated tools, users are exposed to less noise and less fumes, and typically, electric tools are more ergonomic.

With the evolution of battery technology, heavy-duty tools are steadily being converted from gas to battery-powered. Through hundreds of hours studying how users work with and handle their tools on the job, DEWALT developed its latest battery-powered equipment line for the concrete craft, DEWALT POWERSHIFT, to fit the person using it instead of the gas engine dictating the design.

Take tools like rammers, plate compactors, vibrators and screeds as examples. Historically with this equipment, gas tanks are either strapped to a user’s back or within very close range leading to inhalation of fumes and exhaust. This is taken out of the equation completely with a shift to battery-operated tools.

Noise reduction is another huge advantage. In this same scenario on a jobsite with a concrete placement, a whistle is blown when concrete buckets are flying overhead. With the noise level of gas tools, that whistle may go unnoticed. Electrified equipment is significantly quieter and allows the user to hear what’s happening around them. Even further, it enables the user to better communicate with their fellow workers. The shift from shouting over gas equipment to talking at a conversational level is not only beneficial for safety purposes but leads to a more orchestrated, efficient workflow and is an ideal environment for newcomers to learn their craft.

Finally, designing products without the burden of a gas tank gives leeway for improved ergonomics. With electric products, start-up can be as easy as the push of a button. Electric products are typically lighter, leading to less strain on the body. And more recently, they have been designed with customizable features like adjustable straps, handle grips and handle height to fit the preferences of every user.

User-First Innovation

For the construction industry to effectively improve safety across the board, products with built-in, innovative safety features need to be ubiquitous.

Manufacturers must understand the broader spectrum of health and safety concerns affecting construction workers, with some of the biggest offenders being exposure to vibration, dust inhalation and “bind-up” scenarios.

According to OSHA research cited by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, about 2 million construction workers are regularly exposed to respirable crystalline silica. The key to reducing dust exposure is to capture it before it’s emitted into the air by using shrouds and extractors. This has three benefits: it reduces the amount of airborne silica particles that users can potentially inhale, increases user visibility for safe and uninterrupted work, and cuts down on tool maintenance costs from prolonged wear and exposure to particles.

At the same time, manufacturers need to prioritize keeping users in control of their tools to provide further protection, particularly when it comes to drilling and cutting applications where jams may occur. To reduce the likelihood of bind-ups, manufacturers are now building clutch-reducing technology into heavy-duty drills. This system detects the motion of the tool and shuts it down in the event it jams, minimizing sudden torque reaction compared to standard clutches. In addition, some tools like grinders now feature a brake that stops the wheel when a pinch is detected.

Demolition, concrete and masonry work require tools that generate heavy vibration from the impact against hard surfaces. Tools are now designed to help reduce vibration felt at the handles by funneling shock absorption through the tool, rather than the user. Tools like rotary and demolition hammers now typically have a small rubber accordion covering the handles, an internal counterbalance weight or a free-floating motor, all of which are internal mechanisms for vibration reduction.

Tackling Mental Health Through Physical Safety

While ensuring physical safety has always been a top priority, the concept of worker safety has grown to encompass a crucial new element: mental health. Now an industry-wide crisis, worksites must not only prioritize physical safety measures but also integrate mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention initiatives to create supportive environments.

Recent CDC data shows there were 162 overdose deaths per 100,000 construction workers in 2020. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data on fatal occupational injuries showed there were 13 on-the-job deaths per 100,000 workers in 2022. These figures suggest that construction workers were significantly more likely to die of an overdose than they were from a work-related injury. This problem stems from the addictive medication that workers are prescribed to manage pain caused by the physical nature of their work. In addition, the suicide rate among construction workers is four times greater than the national average. The combination of these issues supports the need to better understand the symbiotic relationship between physical safety and mental health.

It is now common practice for unions to offer access to addiction and mental health professionals, and the role of safety experts is quickly evolving to include issues like overdose and suicide.

It’s important for manufacturers to support efforts to effectively manage and mitigate these issues, while at the same time continue developing innovative products that get to the root cause of the issue by helping to prevent injuries on the job. To help tackle safety head-on internally and with our users, Stanley Black & Decker’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mitchell McClure makes it clearer.

“To varying degrees, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders, both of which are prevalent and often overlap,” Dr. McClure said. “Our goal is to support the holistic well-being of our employees and stakeholders through a multi-pronged approach of prioritizing physical health, mental health and safety. We recognize these facets are highly interconnected and interdependent.”

The Path Forward

Relentless innovation is crucial to creating healthier and safer work environments for all. While product advancement is just one part of the solution, recognizing its positive impact equips the industry with the tools and technology needed to invoke stronger safety measures. Ultimately, this focus on innovation and support of workers’ physical and emotional needs is imperative to improving safety standards for the entire workforce.

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