Specifier Review
health and safety in construction

The future of health and safety in construction

By Chris Pendrey, Regional SHEQ Advisor at Actavo Direct  

The current coronavirus pandemic has thrust employee health and safety into the spotlight in every industry. And with construction being one of the first sectors beginning to return to work after the first phase of the nationwide lockdown, all eyes are on employers.

However, for construction, this is just the beginning. An industry which is largely failing to properly protect its workers is set for transformation in the next few years. Actavo Direct’s Chris Pendrey looks at the future for health and safety in construction.

Transformation through tech

The construction industry is notoriously under-digitised, relying on traditional methods on-site and in management.

The industry is neglecting the power of technology in revolutionising day-to-day activities – and no more so than in health and safety. Those willing to invest in technology will reap the rewards of time and cost savings in the long-term.

For example, AI is changing the way we detect and manage hazards. And with the construction industry suffering 54,000 injuries a year – with 30 of those being fatal injuries – the power of AI goes beyond just making risk assessments more convenient.

The use of AI in live video streaming and wearable tech mean hazards can be detected and flagged in real-time, keeping workers safe on site.

AI technology can be trained to spot potential hazards as they arise and warn employees – for example, tripping hazards, falling objects or the risk of crashing vehicles or machinery. Notifications are sent out immediately, allowing employees to intervene safely before the worst happens.

Similarly, AI is powering wearable technology, which has the potential to completely change the way workers behave on site. The devices conveniently clip on to workers’ tool belts and track information like fatigue and surroundings, so they can alert users when they become dangerously tired or move too close to hazardous objects.

With tiredness believed to cause around 13 percent of on-site injuries, taking a proactive approach to minimising fatigue could drastically improve conditions for workers.

The role of robotics

While the idea of robotics on-site may seem far off, many industry big hitters are developing technology to cut project time and costs and alleviate some of the most dangerous and injury-prone tasks for employees.

It isn’t always the heaviest or most extreme tasks that can cause injury. Daily tasks like heavy lifting and excavation begin to wear on workers’ bodies. With 30 percent of construction workers suffering a back injury at some point in their career, it’s often a result of long-term exposure to repetitive straining and heavy-lifting, rather than a single incident.

The role of robotics in completing repetitive or heavy-duty tasks means workers will be less exposed to the impact of physically demanding work.

Plus, robotics are paving the way for remote operation in construction – with employees operating machinery on-site from a remote location over a 5G network. As this technology develops, we’ll see less-crowded sites and a drop in injuries from collisions.

Changing attitudes

Achieving industry-wide change in health and safety requires buy-in across the board. It’s up to employers to gain this buy-in from their teams.

Health and safety often suffers from a reputation as being dry and time-consuming, so the key is breaking down this notion and providing health and safety training in a way that engages your people.

Consider switching seminars or meetings to practical training, in which employees can practise their knowledge in an authentic setting. Plus, offering online training allows them to access modules from anywhere and work through them at their own pace.

Make it as easy as possible for staff to adhere to your safety guidelines. For example, extensive incident forms may make them less likely to report minor hazards as they don’t have time to add it to their workload.

However, using Whatsapp to report incidents makes it much simpler to log incidents. Employees can snap pictures and send reports to the site manager in minutes. The easier it is for employees to manage health and safety, the more likely they are to adhere – leading to safer sites.

Minding mental health

As a largely manual industry, mental health is often overlooked in construction, when it comes to health and safety regulations.

Construction employees are no more immune to mental health challenges than any other professional and it’s important they’re provided with the right support.

Consider the challenges facing those in construction. For many, both long hours and working in an industry in which talking about your feelings can be stigmatised, are the biggest obstacles faced when it comes to protecting their mental health.

Try to tailor your mental health support to these challenges. This could mean encouraging face-to-face check-ins between line managers and their teams, in which they can talk openly about any problems they’re having, either on the job or in their personal lives.

To avoid overworking, make sure employees know they aren’t expected to work over their contracted hours and if a project does occasionally overrun, offer a flexitime approach, in which employees can begin work later the next day to make up for their overtime.