My name is Mchaji (em-CHA-jee) Celestaine. I am from Lake Charles, LA. I attended McNeese State University, where I participated in undergraduate chemical research and presented my findings nationally. I graduated from McNeese in 2016 with a degree in Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Currently I am a second year pharmacy student at the Texas Southern University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. I am involved in organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association and the Texas Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Some of my hobbies include video editing, weight training, and binge watching Netflix.
More than 60 percent of private sector work deaths in the construction industry during 2015 were due to falls, being struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between accidents. What measures do you think construction companies should take – or what new safety standards should be implemented – to help lower the instance of these incidents?
The Use of Automated Monitoring and Sensor Technology in Construction Safety Management
By Mchaji Celestaine
The construction industry—ever changing, ever growing—is the backbone of society. Construction employment grows faster than any other occupation, with over 700,000 new jobs expected to emerge over the next ten years alone (BLS 2018). This boom is a response to the need of new buildings, infrastructure, and housing. Unfortunately, with this prosperous growth comes great risk. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were nearly a thousand deaths in construction in 2016, making just over 20% of American industry deaths construction related (OSHA 2018). The causes of these deaths are known as the “Fatal Four”. These, in order of prevalence, are: falls, struck by object, electrocution, and being caught in or between objects (OSHA 2018). OSHA (2018) predicts that by addressing and removing these events, the construction industry would save the lives of 631 Americans annually. However, though organizations such as OSHA have played a vital part in the development of safety guidelines and procedures, there has been no significant reduction in these injuries over the last decade (Awolusi et al., 2017). Researchers within the industry look for innovative ways to approach construction safety management. In an age where mobile technologies are making leaps into the everyday lives of society, perhaps the answer lies therein. Popular wearable technologies such as the FitBit and the Apple Watch track performance and log data for athletes and casual users. The use of sensor technology has been seen in professional sports as a means of recording statistics and promoting overall health (Awolusi et al., 2017). Such technologies have also been seen for years in critical fields such as law enforcement and emergency care for effective communication and safety (Awolusi et al., 2017). Implementing automated monitoring and various wearable technologies in the field could prove to be the breakthrough companies are looking for in construction safety management.
Construction sites are dynamic and hazardous. As construction proceeds, old hazards disappear and new ones arise. This can make risk levels difficult to predict, as companies often rely on raw data that is reported post-accident (Awolusi et al., 2017). This method is time consuming and expensive, with potential for misinformation or failure to report incidents, as well as slowed production times (Awolusi et al., 2017). With automated monitoring systems, safety management can have access to real-time data which researchers can use to more accurately assess risks and make a timelier adjustment if needed. An example can be found in the assessment of fall risk. Falls make up nearly 40% of construction related deaths, and OSHA standards for fall protection were the most violated in 2017 (OSHA 2018). To answer this, researchers are considering physiological monitoring using various types of sensing technologies to predict dangers based on motion. A gyroscope, used jointly with an accelerator and a magnetometer, proves to be a useful tool in measuring functional movement (Awolusi et al., 2017). Gyroscopes measure the orientation, rotation, and angular velocity of the body. When combined with magnetometers, their data recording abilities are enhanced using the earth’s magnetic field (Awolusi et al., 2017). Extensive work has been done with acceleration and pressure sensors. Research teams have designed vests and harnesses fitted with these sensors to detect falls. In the collection of safety data, some methods can be intrusive or cumbersome. By making sensors small and using everyday tools such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, data analysts can acquire readings without hindering workers or slowing progress. Developers have installed small sensors in mobile technologies such as cell phones and smart watches (Awolusi et al., 2017), which has proven particularly effective in the industry’s rapidly changing environment. Environmental conditions also play a significant role in construction hazards. Workers are often slowly exposed to toxins from materials on the job (Awolusi et al., 2017). Using sensors to monitor the levels of these toxins is imperative, as many of these dangers are unseen. Sensors have been engineered to read air quality, chemical content, humidity, and gas leaks (Awolusi et al., 2017). All this data is recorded in real-time, and is more accessible to analysts working to promote accident control.
Accident prevention is a more proactive method than accident control because it uses resources to stop accidents from happening rather than using their occurrence to adjust safety parameters. Prevention, although potentially less accurate, is a cheaper and more effective means of safety management (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Sensor technologies allow for signaling and warning mechanisms to keep workers out of dangerous situations. Contact injuries involve being struck by an object, being electrocuted, or caught in between objects. Together, these events make up a fourth of construction related deaths (OSHA 2018) and are due to negligence, blind spots, or communication error. Awolusi et al. (2017) propose proximity detection and location tracking as a means of preventing these dangers [Awolusi et al., 2017). One of the tools used for proximity detection is radio frequency identification, or RFID. RFID uses radio signals to tag objects, and has already made great progress in accident forewarning systems (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Because RFID can tag multiple targets, it can be a useful tool in locating both workers and their proximity to dangerous mobile machinery. Safety researchers are integrating RFID into the use of heavy equipment such as cranes to prevent collisions (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Others are working to sectionalize the workplace based on levels of danger. Using RFID and Bluetooth, workers were alerted when they approached these areas (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Technologies such as Ultra-wideband (UWB) and the global positioning system (GPS) are used to locate and track workers that may enter dangerous zones. UWB works similarly to RFID in using wireless signaling for location, but is less susceptible to interference. It operates at high speeds with a low margin of error (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Safety management teams can take advantage of UWB technology by using it to communicate dangers to workers immediately. For example, a research team designed a system that categorized a worksite into zones. They used UWB to detect falling objects and automatically warn nearby workers of the danger (Mingyuan et al., 2017). The GPS uses satellites, ground control, and is popular due its navigation and mapping capabilities (Mingyuan et al., 2017). Researchers have used GPS to track the positioning of workers and monitor their proximity to danger (Awolusi et al., 2017). By incorporating these sensor-based technologies into the construction process, safety managers can see accidents before they happen and more effectively exercise prevention.
With exponential growth expected over the next decade, the construction industry will suffer more casualties if companies do not find a more effective means of safety management. Fortunately, there is evidence that using sensor-based technology is an efficient method of accident prevention and control. By using automated monitoring systems, researchers can eliminate the issues of time and cost of conventional data collection. Using small, wearable technologies, they can access real-time risk data and use them to modify the worksite based on accident potential. Researchers have proven the effectiveness of sensor tech such as RFID and UWB in integrating accident forewarning systems, and stopping disasters before they come to pass. By utilizing these tools to eliminate construction-related deaths, companies will not only save lives, but make the industry a safer place to work for generations to come.
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