These 3 emerging technologies may help improve jobsite safety

Skanska is relentless in our efforts to ensure that project sites are injury-free, and a key aspect of that is developing, testing and evaluating solutions intended to reduce risk and prevent incidents. Below are three such technologies we’re currently exploring. For an even deeper dive, we’ll be discussing some of this at ENR’s FutureTech East Conference September 30 to October 1 in New York City.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) ties construction processes and safety protocols together by harnessing the potential that comes from being immersed in a 3-D environment: there’s no need to imagine a safety scenario when you’re able to physically experience a space that may not yet be built. Our virtual reality and gaming journey has included conducting research with the University of Washington and Virginia Tech, testing cave automatic virtual environments – better known by the acronym CAVE – and determining the possibilities of smart helmets such as DAQRI, an augmented reality helmet that projects data and models directly onto a hands-free display to provide intuitive instructions for jobsite teams. We’re excited about where we are today with this: employing technology to find better ways to achieve injury-free environments.

A great example of this is how we’re seeking to leverage VR to improve the Global Safety Stand Downs we hold whenever a serious incident occurs on any of our projects. Today, this important aspect of our safety culture involves our teams, company-wide, stopping work to discuss what occurred, sometimes with 3-D renderings of the incident scene supporting those conversations. But imagine how much more effective these stand downs would be if they included interactive animations of what happened. Even better, what if – through gaming technology – you could make choices, possibly leading to a different outcome in the animation? By engaging people on so many levels, VR enables learning via empathy since it places individuals at the center of the experience, which is quite powerful. Creating a library of interactive safety simulations is a current focus of ours, and we’re glad that OSHA shares our thinking, as seen through its Hazard Identification Training Tool.

GSSD_Screenshot1

We’re creating a library of interactive safety simulations to improve our safety training.

Real-time location systems

Real-time location systems (RTLS), such as Bluetooth-powered beacons or sensors, are being deployed to connect the physical and digital worlds in ways that make our lives easier and safer: they essentially function as an indoor GPS. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston is testing beacons that utilize a smartphone app to better track and understand rider behavior. And in healthcare, RTLS helps hospitals track critical equipment such as dialysis machines and “crash carts” for medical emergencies so they can be instantly located by staff.

We see great potential for RTLS in construction, especially as it relates to synchronizing BIM with the built environment to increase jobsite safety and efficiency. At our 101 Seaport commercial development project in Boston, we are teaming with Redpoint Positioning to test their RTLS technology with our BIM models to accurately and dynamically track materials and team members, giving us real-time visibility into jobsite operations. The safety implications here are tremendous: at any given time we can tell where a tool, material or person is on the jobsite and plan accordingly. For example, our teams can use the sensors with BIM models to define a hazardous area, such as a fall hazard. When a worker wearing a safety vest connected to the location system enters that hazardous zone, the vest will start flashing to warn of the danger, providing instant feedback and environmental awareness. This information is also transmitted to the appropriate manager, who can use it to log incidents and plan for more learning opportunities. Additionally, for lean planning, we will be exploring how RTLS helps drive manpower efficiency and continuous improvement for our construction schedules.

We see RTLS powering better ways of operating buildings too, such as  creating an interactive wayfinding experience for customers in an airport terminal or large mall; adding a layer of augmented reality to a hospitality or entertainment experience; increasing security for personnel or critical assets; or creating the infrastructure for a smart building that can aid building management and operations.  To further explore this technology, we’re building it into Skanska’s new Boston office, which will be at 101 Seaport. For more on how we’re testing real time location systems, check out this video:

Drones

By enabling us to better understand projects, drones have tremendous potential to help mitigate jobsite risks and enable smarter ways of building. And now that we have received our first drone certification from the FAA, we are excited to start using drones on some of our projects. For example, our joint venture on San Diego’s I-5 North Coast Corridor highway widening project is planning to use a drone for surveying in an environmentally sensitive lagoon that is off-limits to a conventional manned survey. Overall, we see drones becoming an important part of our project planning process. There are huge upsides with this emerging technology, and also significant challenges too. We’re working closely with the FAA to determine the best practices for jobsites.

Civil drone training session - CA

As we train more employees to use drones, we expect scenes like this to become more common on our construction sites. 

The future

Looking even further into the future of construction, we see artificial intelligence becoming key This might involve predictive analytics to forecast future outcomes and trends, self-driving construction vehicle, and robots – such as what we’re researching in the UK – that reduce the chance for human error. Furthermore, we see project sites becoming more industrialized through the use of prefabricated and modular construction, and 3-D printing becoming more mainstream.

Ultimately, these advances have significant potential to help both Skanska and the broader construction industry eliminate jobsite injuries. We can’t reach that target soon enough.

Tony Colonna

Tony Colonna

Senior vice president of innovative construction solutions

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