Wearables for Construction

Wearables are electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into clothing, equipment and accessories. What are their benefits and what does a contractor do with the data?
By Joseph Kopko
June 7, 2018

The continued evolution of technology has positioned many organizations to embrace and manage “big data” to their advantage. However, the selection of wearable technology as it relates to construction can often be overwhelming, as well as disappointing when implementation hurdles and employee buy in do not generate the intended results.

So what exactly is a wearable, and how do contractors evaluate which technology is right for their business and culture? “Wearables” as a broad term refers to electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into items such as clothing, equipment and accessories which can comfortably be worn or carried on the body.

What Benefit Does a Connected Workforce Have and How do Contractors Use This Data to Their Advantage?

The benefit of collecting information on company daily activities can provide otherwise untold details about the safety and productivity of the workforce. Having a steady flow of relevant information can shine a light on at-risk behaviors and pinpoint which employees are in need of focused attention or retraining. This translates into more efficient supervision. Furthermore, this compilation of data can support business development efforts. As injuries are reduced and productivity improves, contractors should market the efforts they have made as a safe, sustainable organization.

The successful implementation and management of a connected workforce begins with understanding what information can be captured and how it will be used to improve operations and workplace safety. An equally important element of a successful launch is outlining who will have access to the information and who is responsible for evaluating, analyzing and communicating the findings. Finally, transparency with employees on the purpose of the new technology and how it will benefit them will yield a higher level of engagement. Multi-generational workforces will benefit from identifying internal champions who can act as “go-to” people for the technologically challenged.

When sourcing new technology, negotiate a demo period or pilot program and test multiple products under work conditions. It is important to evaluate customer service at peak times of operation when timely assistance is paramount. Ease of use and access to support are “must haves” for any construction company. Regardless of product design, if users are unable to get support during working hours, implementation will be challenging. Look for technology partners that also bundle a dashboard, mobile app or landing page where access and organization of the information is streamlined.

Wearable Standouts for the Construction Industry

A key advantage of wearable technology is the “always on” capability to gather information. Quite often traditional worker observations yield inaccurate reports or incomplete information. The StrongArm Technologies FUSE sensor gathers an abundant amount of objective information, identifying employees at risk for repetitive motion and musculoskeletal injuries, while also capturing workplace stressors like noise and temperature that can exacerbate the risk. A robust dashboard and algorithm assign a safety score and identifies employees in need of intervention and support. Additional PPE can be deployed and monitored for its effectiveness via the safety scoring system.

SolePower’s integrated, self-powered device in its footwear provides real time location and data tracking of the workforce. Beyond the obvious accountability and emergency response features, this wearable can preemptively identify fatigued employees by the change in their gait along with a few other parameters. Productivity measurements can be developed by task as fatigue increases, calibrating the point of diminishing return. As the construction industry progresses, imagine a fully integrated project where all workers were equipped with this wearable. This data could identify scheduling conflicts, delays and impacts. Assessing overall productivity by trade and keeping a running log of all activity on site would support claims and provide definitive information for a “measured mile” impact analysis.

The beauty of Predictive Solutions SafetyNet is that the “wearable” hardware already exists in the workforce and they are fully equipped to use it. A cell phone or tablet is all that is necessary, which in many cases is already worn on the body. A key benefit of this technology is the fingertip access to a virtual “suggestion box” for ease of documenting and reporting an unsafe condition in the moment. With customized observation parameters, inspection criteria, QR codes and risk scoring, any “connected” employee can easily facilitate conducting an observation and manage ongoing inspection and documentation requirements in real time. An algorithm and software compile information and provide predictive insights into where resources should be deployed, and even further as to which shifts, crews and individual employees are at risk for injury. By leveraging existing technology, it is reasonable to turn the entire workforce into risk monitors further populating data set and improving predictive analytics.

What Does a Contractor Do with All the Data?

The easiest part is selecting the wearable technology and communicating expectations. Many organizations who are well underway on their integration of wearables can appreciate the experience of the data journey. Once the data is compiled contractors may discover that the information will mean different things to different parties. It is important to employ a variety of “lenses” to look at data and analyze it as they “see” the operation. Operations, finance, safety, risk, legal, HR and purchasing will all benefit differently from their analysis of the data and see their own unique opportunities. The synergistic benefits from multiple perspectives using this new stream of information can provide business intelligence that will undoubtedly prevent loss, sustain the workforce and positively affect margins.

Manage Expectations

Understand that there may be resistance from employees. They may challenge the information or the need to collect it. Expect that some of the information may be tainted, at least initially. A common outcome from increased observation is known as the Hawthorne effect, where behaviors are modified due to the attention placed on them and the results can be favorably skewed and not representative. This will pass and can be alleviated with proper communication and transparency at the onset of the project. Provide ample time to assess the value of the data and determining actionable steps. Trends are not developed by a few occurrences, but by ongoing evaluation and understanding of the circumstances.

Taking the initiative to implement a connected workforce can be truly rewarding and incredibly insightful. Leverage insurance and risk partners in the process. They may have already vetted providers or solutions and negotiated preferred pricing structures. The information and subsequent risk reduction actions contractors put in place can also positively affect workers compensation insurance premiums. Underwriters have some discretion in how they price a “risk.” There is always a story to tell, and one that includes active identification of risk and implemented corrective actions will be music to an underwriter’s ears.

by Joseph Kopko
Joseph Kopko, Senior Vice President and Senior Risk Consultant, Hub International has more than 15 years of experience in managing safety, health, and environmental programs, including more than a decade in the private sector. Previously, Joe worked with industry leaders in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and was awarded the National Safety Council’s “Top 40 under 40 Rising Star of Safety.” He was also recognized by Indiana University of Pennsylvania as an “outstanding young alumni” for his work in the field of injury prevention and risk management. He is an active member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, including past chapter president, and a professional member of RIMS.

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