Enhance Worker Safety With Wearables and Internet of Things

Tech tools and risk management programs can help deliver a compelling ROI on a company’s safety program.
By Allen Abrahamsen
April 12, 2022

Worker and workplace safety is a priority for the construction industry. Yet despite advances in safety training, technologies and equipment, construction workers—who make up just 6% of the U.S. labor force—represent roughly 20% of worker deaths in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In 2020, the BLS reported that there were 174,100 cases of injuries in the construction sector. The same report indicated that injury and illness rates in construction were, on average, 24% higher than they were across all industries. And these injuries are costly—lost productivity and actual expenditures on care, disability payments and fines across business sectors amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, according to the National Safety Council.

These facts underscore the importance construction executives must place on continuing to identify and employ actionable ways to improve workplace safety and help predict and prevent common construction site hazards.

Wearable technologies

In an effort to reduce workplace incidents, wearables and visual observing capabilities are quickly becoming more commonplace and part of construction companies’ comprehensive safety programs. Many of the devices currently available are “smart” versions of the types of gear already available at a construction site—like helmets, boots, watches, gloves, glasses and other safety apparel. And whether the wearable technologies monitor proximity, movement, health and environmental conditions, or a combination thereof, they can provide data which may allow companies, their safety managers and risk engineers to be more proactive, and address risks before they become incidents.

The adoption of wearables in the construction industry is still in the early stages, although it has increased in recent years—growing from 6% of contractors using construction wearables onsite in 2018, versus 23% in 2021 as projected in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index report. The same report says that 83% of contractors believe construction wearables would improve onsite safety.

Common types of connected wearables and visual tools currently available and/or in use in the construction industry include the following.

  • Proximity sensors to let workers know if they are near a leading edge, equipment in use or other potentially hazardous situation. They can also help locate workers onsite. These can be incorporated into watches, glasses, boots and other apparel.
  • Movement sensors can detect a collision or fall, fatigue or whether a worker is moving in a way that may cause injury.
  • Condition sensors monitor heat/temperature, heart rate, load bearing and the presence of harmful/hazardous materials (like gasses).
  • Exoskeleton suits assist workers in lifting weight—putting less stress on their bodies.
  • Remote video, live person, and artificial intelligence assistance tools allow for jobsite assessment whether in near- or real-time, and provide opportunity to share observations and provide recommendations for improvement before an incident occurs.

Several of these tools support the ability for rapid deployment of medical assistance and response if an employee is injured, and the initiation of a site evacuation if that becomes necessary.

The process

No matter the types of "Internet of Things" technologies being considered, best practices suggest implementing a six-step process to incorporate the technology into risk management programs.

  1. Identify the risks, including the most predictable and preventable exposures.
  2. Measure risks to determine best practices solutions for where the company is today and where its programs will be in the future.
  3. Examine solutions, including which wearables can help monitor and mitigate identified risks.
  4. Prioritize and implement solutions as part of a comprehensive program.
  5. Monitor results and determine what’s working and where additional improvements can be made.
  6. Adjust by assessing what’s working, what’s not working and modify the program based on results.

Elimination of risk, prevention through design and substitution of hazards should always be the goals. However, even if these goals cannot be achieved, the suggested process of implementing technology into a risk management program can help lead to practical solutions in a challenging construction environment.

Internet of Things technology and tools will not replace the traditional Hierarchy of Controls or the importance of having a risk professional’s boots on the ground, but they do deliver useful information and help make the data actionable for risk professionals and construction executives.

Key Benefits of Wearables and Internet of Things Technology

The types of data provided by wearables can convey critical information in real time to help companies improve efficiencies and workplace safety—in the moment and beyond—including, but not limited to:

  • Increased visibility of project risks, offering opportunities to improve safety measures;
  • Helping reduce response times to active exposures/events;
  • Coaching opportunities with employees who may unknowingly be putting themselves or others at risk;
  • Opportunities for improved collaboration and communication among craft, management and safety professionals;
  • Greater document control efficiencies, including reduced paper files and binders, and the ease of conveyance of files and data between projects; and
  • Increased claim and/or litigation efficiencies by providing evidence of an incident or an individual’s proximity to the incident, which can help facilitate and streamline the investigation process.

Things to Consider Before Adoption

As with the integration of any new technology, it is important to investigate and thoroughly vet the potential exposures and solutions in addition to providing training, including the following.

  • Training all team members on the proper use of the tool and how to avoid the possible distractions which may come with a wearable. Construction sites are inherently dangerous, and workers must remain focused. Technology, without training, could add to potential risk.
  • The (cyber) security of the tool/solution—the vendor should have a formally documented Information Security Policy in place and update it annually, at a minimum.
  • How and where the data will be stored, and the specification of a data retention period.
  • How the data may be shared, if at all.
  • The overall cost of the tool/solution—including, but not limited to, the purchase of the hardware, software, licensing, subscriptions and monitoring.

While the outcomes and return on investment analyses on the implementation of wearables and Internet of Things technologies in the construction industry are still being evaluated, the available data indicate there may be opportunity for increased communication, potential reduction in the number of incidents and claims filed, improved workplace safety and productivity, and reduction in downtime—all of which may lead to better outcomes for your safety program and potentially, with insurance partners.

Wearables and Internet of Things tools used in conjunction with traditional risk management programs can help mitigate risk and deliver a compelling return on investment for your company’s safety program. Allocating the necessary resources and training teams on the process can help affect positive change in the way people work by reducing their exposures to certain hazards.

This document is advisory in nature and is intended to be a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advisors in maintaining a loss prevention program. It is an overview only, and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your insurance broker, or for legal, engineering or other professional advice.

by Allen Abrahamsen

Allen Abrahamsen leads an experienced team of technical consultants to provide loss prevention services and products for contractors, OCIP and CCIP programs. He also provides technical assistance, delivers construction training programs, and develops effective solutions for meeting the unique and ever-changing challenges faced within the construction industry. Allen is an OSHA construction outreach trainer and holds Associate in Risk Management (ARM) and Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST) designations.

For more information on construction safety programs and how—and which—wearables may benefit your organization, visit

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