Nearly a decade ago, the use of electronic devices to transmit information about equipment operation earned widespread acceptance throughout the construction industry. Now called “telematics,” it was first used for tracking equipment. But, what about the health and safety of workers? Now there are ways to monitor that as well, with the use of wearable technology.
At approximately the same time as machine telematics began earning favor, the advent of wearable tech occurred. Most people are familiar with it, thanks, in large part, to devices such as “smart watches” and fitness trackers. A global forecast from CCS Insight predicts the wearables market will be worth $25 billion by 2019. According to the article, “Invest in Wearables for Increased Worker Safety,” the global protective work-wear market will grow at a rate of nearly 5 percent in the next four years.
“The construction industry has always seen the potential of wearable technology to improve safety and increase productivity,” wrote Tyler Riddell in his piece “Top Wearable Technology to Watch for in 2017,” which appears at esub.com. “However, the difficulty of implementation posed a challenge that affected adoption by the construction industry. Suppliers of wearable technology have responded to this barrier and are now trying to make construction wearables feasible for any construction company. To do so, suppliers of wearable technology must ensure that the equipment is affordable, easily transferable from worker to worker and user-friendly. As suppliers continue to improve their products to fit the needs of the construction industry, widespread adoption…is expected to grow exponentially.”
Riddell notes that wearables’ ability to monitor and report biometrics and dangerous environmental conditions provides a more immediate response to safety issues.
“Wearable technology will also increase productivity in construction by allowing each worker to have the most accurate and detailed information at his or her fingertips at all times,” Riddell wrote. “According to Rackspace, wearable technology in the construction industry can increase productivity by 8.5 percent. Wearable technology allows all team members to be in constant communication and eliminates any information discrepancies between team members.”
Information from wearable devices, such as fitness trackers, is useful for helping people make better lifestyle choices and eliminate detrimental habits. The construction industry hopes for the same with wearable technology, such as smart hard hats and safety vests, that can monitor and track everything from workers’ whereabouts to practices for performing specific tasks to their current health data.
“Heart rate, body temperature, perspiration levels, geophysical location, time in motion and even EEG brain waves are being incorporated into wearable construction technologies designed to improve workers’ safety, boost productivity and comfort as well as generate valuable human behavioral data for optimizing jobsites large and small,” noted Riddell in his esub.com article “Wearable Devices Bring Human Data to the Connected Jobsite.”
Researchers at Virginia Tech University have been working on a safety vest that will alert road construction workers if a car is approaching too quickly or too closely, hopefully giving workers time to avoid a potentially deadly situation. Other vests may offer built-in systems to keep workers cool during hot weather or warm them up in frigid temperatures, alert co-workers if someone trips or falls and more.
Hard hats, glasses and goggles
Several other devices that fit under the construction wearable technology umbrella, and perhaps the most easily noticed is a smart hard hat.
One company, DAQRI, designed a wearable that includes a processor for multimedia and augmented reality (AR). The company’s website says its Smart Helmet® with a heads-up visor can display instructions and jobsite models that are superimposed in a real-world environment. This allows the wearer to see how a future project will look upon completion. The device can also record video and alert the wearer, if it detects a problem. Other manufacturers have created eyewear, such as glasses that offer similar functions and features like the Smart Helmet visor display, to pair with traditional hardhats.
Another area not necessarily considered in the wearable category for construction, but perhaps that should be, is virtual reality (VR). Several companies are developing VR goggles for uses in operator training and jobsite modeling.
Transparency is vital
Wearable technology is not without its detractors. Some view it as another way that “Big Brother” is watching and fear that data collected could be used against them. The argument is something that the construction industry will need to address as technology continues to advance.
In her article, “With Wearable Tech, Trust is Paramount,” author Susannah Levine quotes several experts who say that businesses should have clear intentions for utilizing wearables.
“The degree to which companies can successfully collect data pivots on trust,” Levin writes. Her article goes on to quote Lockton Companies Vice President, Risk Control Consulting Practice Leader Bill Spiers, “Companies must be transparent about what data they’re collecting and how they will use it.”
Despite the benefits, some organizations might be hesitant to invest in wearable technology right away. In her article, “Top 6 Wearables for Safety at the Jobsite,” Hagen Business Solutions Owner Carol Hagen suggests that companies should consider the learning curve, what competitive advantage the tech offers in the short term and what is the long-term future, if a business buys into wearables.
“You may find these technologies not only win you more work and increase productivity, but also make it easier to recruit and retain talent with measurable workforce development benefits,” Hagen said, adding, “Measurable results may change more than the work environment; they can make the priorities obvious. The ability of technologies to share data, identify actionable items and create a continuous improvement loop can make the industry safer and leaner.”
Editor’s note: This blog is about changing taking place in the construction industry. It is for information only and is not intended to promote a particular product or brand.