Being Smart

 WEARABLES 01Wearables can advance on-site safety and operations.   

By Erin Cullen

Smart technologies are becoming the norm on large construction sites as we move into 2019. Wearable devices in particular, which clip onto workers’ toolkits or are worn as a bracelet are gaining prevalence, in large part because they add an additional layer of safety to the operation. 

Safety First

Long-range wireless data communication technology, Bluetooth, WiFi or LoRa to name a few, is an effective safety tool to track workers, whether underground or in remote locations. There is a wide range of wearable products that leverage these networks to pinpoint the location of a worker. The size, scale and scope of a project impacts the contractor’s decision of what product best suits the needs of the site.

Many wearables include a call button that allows the worker to send for help in an emergency. If the worker is injured and unable to walk or reach a cell phone, access to this button ensures communication with the site manager and expedites the time it takes to send for help. 

On more advanced wearables, the device can actually recognize if a worker has fallen by detecting impact. These devices eliminate the need to call for help altogether, alerting the site manger without a manual prompt. Despite this added benefit, however, smart technologies are not sophisticated enough to replace site safety managers and should only be used to enhance existing safety procedures. 

Operational Efficiency and Cost Optimization

Safety isn’t the only benefit to wearables. From an operational standpoint, wearables can improve staffing. It can be a challenge to evenly staff a large construction site, particularly as needs change throughout the day. Smart technology helps by providing managers with a full view of their employees at all times. If an area is overcrowded, or if an employee ends up working alone, contractors can detect this in real time and reassign workers as needed. 

Data throughout this process can be aggregated to determine project efficiency metrics, which can then be used to inform the staffing of future jobs to ensure cost optimization. If one work zone was more efficient than another, data can be used to determine exactly why and if there are opportunities to cut costs.

Companies also stand to reduce costs with wearables adoption simply by improving their optics to outside partners. Although there aren’t insurance options that specifically mandate wearables or offer a reduced fee, technology use is evaluated during the underwriting process, and can benefit companies by demonstrating their commitment to their staff’s wellbeing and onsite safety.

Worker’s Benefits

While the benefits to contractors are clear, a common complaint about wearables is that the full-view of staff deprives the worker of their independence and leads to the micromanaging of employees. In fact, wearables are as much a benefit to workers as they are to contractors. 

Obviously, it’s in the worker’s best interest to receive help as quickly as possible in the event of an injury. But beyond safety benefits, data backlogs from smart technology give employees peace of mind. By tracking where a worker is at all times, smart technology logs the timing of arrival and departure and can detect the moment and site of an injury. In the event of a staffing or insurance dispute, this offers the worker the power of proof.

Looking Ahead

Because of these benefits, it’s not far-fetched to assume that wearables will eventually be mandated by evolving site regulations. Construction sites are full of dangers, and an added element of safety can go a long way toward mitigating risk.

At present, the price point for smart technology for small operations may be challenging, but construction companies of all sizes should keep their eyes on the wearables market. This technology will only advance in sophistication, and we expect the industry to scale over time so it’s affordable to all.

Erin Cullen is a customer group president at ProSight Specialty Insurance. In her role, she focuses on underwriting, business development and distribution management.

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