Four Reasons Construction Managers Should Implement Wearables on the Jobsite

Four Reasons Construction Managers Should Implement Wearables on the Jobsite

The benefits of wearables extend beyond safety.

In 2019, nearly 20 percent of all worker deaths in the private sector were from construction. While certain dangers are inherent to this line of work, one way construction managers can promote a safer work environment is by equipping their teams with wearable devices.

However, the benefits of wearables extend beyond safety. Wearables can also facilitate remote inspections and help you retain staff, which can boost the level of efficiency and knowledge on your site. Here is a look at how implementing wearables can improve your construction site’s operations.

Optimize Safety Procedures

83 percent of contractors believe that wearables could improve their on-site safety, but only six percent report actually using them. This disconnect likely indicates that decision makers don’t recognize the value wearables can add.

But that value is significant.

Take verifying the steps of a process, a fundamental aspect of jobsite safety.

Without wearables, workers either have to call over a supervisor to verify or do it themselves. The former requires having SMEs onsite. The latter requires crews to have enough experience to do verification correctly.

With wearables—say, a pair of smart glasses—a worker can stream live video or upload photos to a cloud server. A remote SME can view the video or images while on the phone with the worker, guide them through any necessary fixes, and verify the work and then take a call from a worker on a different site. In other words, can efficiently limit worksite mistakes, thus improving safety and driving down the personnel costs and those associated with dismantling and restarting parts of a project.

Monitor Employee Health

The most recent data from the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that the average cost to a company for a worker’s medically consulted (i.e., serious) injury is $42,000. Worker injuries represent a massive loss for the construction industry. In 2019 alone, 70,000,000 days were lost due to worker injuries. This leads to a slew of additional costs, ranging from hiring temporary contractors to repairing any machinery damaged in the workplace incident.

Wearables that track workers’ vital signs (like some smart watches) can mitigate costs related to injuries and other incidents. On-site managers can view reports from these wearables, which gives them greater insight into regulating the health and productivity of their crew.

Let’s say it is the summer and your whole crew is working on foundation digging. You receive a warning, transmitted by their wearables, that two of your workers’ heart rates are rising quickly. You use this as an opportunity to pull them into the shade and get the whole crew some time to rest and hydrate.

In this case, wearables enable you to protect your workers from something like heat stroke, which could incapacitate them for days. The cost to equip your crew with wearables pales in comparison to the cost of their medical emergencies and missed work.

Deliver Training and Feedback More Efficiently

Training is a crucial component of maintaining a safe construction site. If you don’t effectively train your workers, the probability that violations and incidents will occur skyrockets. One way you can build a greater culture of safety is by improving your training with wearables.

Similar to the use case for verifying steps of a project, wearables enable SMEs to remotely deliver instructions to crew members.

This gives workers greater access to an SME. Rather than waiting for them to drive to the site, which can run up billable hours and stall progress, a wearable allows an SME to deliver feedback quickly, with the aid of live video feeds.

For example, a worker may run into issues programming a circuit board on your site. They put on smart glasses, call an SME and stream a video of the board. The remote SME can then use this live stream to provide further instruction.

It's worth noting that not every situation calls for a wearable. It would be impossible for an SME or supervisor to remotely inspect something like a gas leak, for example, which often requires a sense of smell to detect. Like any other tool, it is important that you use wearables in the right context.

Retain Talent

The lack of qualified workers across the construction industry is well documented, and this issue doesn’t appear to be improving. BuildForce anticipates that another 250,000 construction workers will retire by 2029.

When a company can’t find qualified workers, timelines change, deadlines collapse and bottom lines erode. Fortunately, wearables can help.

Construction is a physically demanding field. However, with wearables, you can hold on to the knowledge of your older crew members by hiring them as consultants. In this capacity, they can virtually train new workers, function as SMEs and even conduct remote inspections. SMEs who are placed on light duty due to injury can work limited hours and continue to add value over live video.

Workplace Safety Is a Necessary Investment

In the last 50 years, construction incidents have fallen by nearly 75 percent, but there is still work to do. Training helps reduce incidents further, and wearables present an opportunity to improve training programs. However, while consumer adoption of wearables has increased dramatically, smartwatch sales ballooned from five million in 2014 to 141 million in 2018. Commercial adoption hasn’t been fully realized.

Still, wearables are not a silver bullet. Using them requires organization-wide buy-in and training. But the benefits are clear. As the pool of qualified workers narrows even further, using technology that improves your safety procedures and optimizes practices like training and inspections can give you a leg up in attracting and retaining talent. This ensures your site is operating as efficiently and safely as possible, which boosts productivity. 

This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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