According to McKinsey, the construction industry is a lagging behind others in adopting new digital technologies, including those related to worker safety. Though there is often a significant initial investment associated with implementing new technologies and processes, the long-term benefits of increased safety and productivity add up quickly.

Wearable technologies (or wearables) such as watches and shoes have been successful on the consumer market for tracking and recording physical activity of users. Now, there is a wide variety of wearables being introduced to the workplace that allow for the monitoring of environmental conditions, health parameters, and worker activity.

Wearables can help reduce risk and human error and improve response times in the event of an accident. At the same time, these connected solutions generate trackable data that can be applied to improve work conditions while creating better oversight and accountability on the work site.


Fighting the Fatal Four with wearable technologies

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified the most common hazards in construction, which have been dubbed the Fatal Four: falls, struck-by, electrocution and caught-in/between. According to OSHA, 631 workers' lives could be saved in America every year by eliminating the Fatal Four.

By reducing these four hazards and many others, wearable technology could prove invaluable for workers. Here are a few of the emerging solutions that could soon be prevalent on construction sites.


Tracking Beacons

Source: Triax Technologies

Tracking beacons, such as the Spot R clip-on models developed by Triax, are a simple and cost-effective way to monitor worker location and activity in real time. Like many emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to create virtual safety boundaries and provide tracking data that can be used to locate workers in an emergency situation.


Jackets and Vests

Jackets and vests can also become part of the connected safety system with the addition of a wide range of sensors. Redpoint and construction firm Skanska have collaborated to develop a vest that tracks the wearer's location, and sends LED warning signals when entering a designated area.

A jacket developed by MIT can measure altitude, as well as environmental conditions such as air quality, noise levels and airborne pollutants. Underneath the jacket, workers can wear a vest that measures heart and breathing rates, perspiration and orientation, and send vibrations to the wearer as a warning signal when safety thresholds are surpassed.


Carabiners

Carabiners, the "spring hooks" used to attach ropes and safety lines, are also joining the IoT. Britain's DMM Climbing has developed a solution using RFID (radio frequency identification) to speed up inspection time of carabiners and improve record keeping. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a carabiner with pressure sensors which reports whether or not it is attached, which could help reduce the amount of falls on work sites.


Shoes and Boots

Shoes and boots are entering the IoT, not just as a source of information, but as a source of energy. Powering wearables is a problem that American shoe startup SolePower is attempting to solve in a practical manner. SolePower's boots are not only equipped with GPS, WiFi access, safety lighting and motion sensors, they use kinetic chargers to generate electricity with each step the wearer takes.

As part of their Safety++ system, MIT has developed shoes that protect a worker's feet, and their entire body. Load sensors embedded in the shoes monitor weight, and vibrate when a worker attempts to lift an object that exceeds pre-defined limits.


Glasses and helmets

Glasses and helmets are a crucial part of worker protection. With the addition of cameras, smart glasses can record details of performed work and safety inspections. With an added tech layer of Augmented Reality (AR), smart glasses and helmets, like those developed by Daqri, transmit an overlay of 3D graphics to guide workers in the completion of tasks and supplement inspections

Working in conjunction with motion detecting wristbands or stationary control panels, smart glasses will also allow workers to remotely control robots or equipment, and perform jobs from a safe and comfortable location.


Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons may sound like something out of a comic book, but they are rapidly becoming a viable solution. While these ultimate wearables have uses in healthcare and many other industries, companies like Japan's Panasonic and the American firm Ekso Bionics are giving construction workers super-human strength. Exoskeleton devices not only make construction easier, they reduce the damage to muscles, joints and bones caused by strenuous and repeated tasks.


Mitigating risk on your construction projects

New technologies such as wearables are rapidly improving the enforcement of safety standards and tracking of processes for construction firms. Though it may still be some time before we see fully connected, bionic workers on constructions sites, risk mitigation cannot wait until tomorrow.