Does technology hold the key to fewer fatalities in construction?

Does technology hold the key to fewer fatalities in construction?

According to the Health & Safety Executive, 39 construction workers died on site last year. The most common cause of death was a fall from height, which accounted for a quarter of the fatalities. It goes without saying that preventing these accidents is a priority for the construction industry – and right now, new, technologically advanced solutions are coming to the fore.

We’ve already touched on how techniques like drone surveying and 3D scanning could improve safety on site. These technologies keep employees out of harm’s way by getting to those hard-to-reach places that might otherwise be risky to access. They scan or survey these areas with far greater precision than a human could manage, improving the work produced and enhancing safety standards.

Plus, with the current post-Brexit labour shortages, these efficient techniques could bring other substantial advantages. But are we putting too much trust in machines?

Better, safer work

Last year, the UK job message board the CV Library reported that in the third quarter of 2020, construction vacancies increased by an enormous 213.4%. Despite the massive number of job postings, the sector had a quarter-on-quarter decline in applications per vacancy of 53.9%. It’s clear that bold thinking is required to address the skills shortage in construction.

Once again technology could hold the answer. Not only do drone surveys and scanning technology require smaller teams, but they streamline tasks that may otherwise sap workers’ time, energy and patience. This makes jobs in construction more satisfying and interesting, furnishing employees with an up-to-the-minute technological skillset.

Through the use of these technologies, construction could attract more workers to a safer, more stimulating environment.

The possibilities extend beyond the technologies we’ve discussed in other articles. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers recently published a piece about the benefits of augmented reality in manufacturing, citing AR assisted assembly instructions and easily accessible CAD files as a route to improving safety and efficiency on factory floors. In a construction context, we could use the same principles. For example, real-time modelling could assist greatly in the preplanning of safety measures such as scaffolding and heavy equipment work zones.

Or does technology breed complacency?

However, there is a school of thought that too much reliance on machines can breed negligence. Dr Francesca de Petrillo, a professor in psychology at Newcastle University, pointed out in a recent article for BBC Futures that we often put too much trust in machines. She noted that with certain voice-activated technologies like Siri and Alexa, we can be lulled into a false sense of security: “I assume that they are acting in my best interests, so I don’t need to question them,” she says.

But the fact is, that faulty machines are dangerous and can become even more so in the event of a security breach. In the same article, Darby Proctor, another psychologist from the Florida Institute of Technology, noted that we’re often far more attuned to risk when a human is involved.

Therefore, it seems that these technologies need to be implemented sensitively and ethically. Workers can’t drop their guard when operating these technologies, and in the event of their introduction on site, it should never be at the expense of proper health and safety training. Only then can we reap the benefits and see fewer tragedies in construction.



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