Mace's Shaun Tate, Project Director, writes about how safety can be improved through new technology in order to better our industry.
At Mace, we are adopting ways in which new technology such as virtual reality, apps and off site technology/design for manufacture and assembly can be used to improve safety on construction sites. Such initiatives will help us save lives, change behaviours and instil safety in everything we do.
Technology is changing the way we live. It's how we apply this technology to benefit our lives that can really make a difference. Historically the construction industry has been slow to embrace the synergy between construction and technology, yet as we do it is becoming apparent there are many ways it will improve the way we build things - safety being just one of them.
Virtual reality burst onto the scene in the 1990s and although it has been around for decades this technology has now moved away from the world of video games and high-level training simulations. It's now available to all of us and ready to play an active role across our industry.
We have been using virtual reality to simulate safety incidents, rehearse installations and pre-empt unsafe conditions.
Such immersive technology allows the user to pick up items using the hand grips and be made to feel they are in a real life situation. With the help of fans, speakers and other sense simulators scenarios can be created that deceive the brain to such an extent that extremely powerful virtual experiences can be created. We initially trialled a working at height scenario where a colleague was placed in a ‘virtual world’ - a cradle suspended off the end of a crane. The 'wind' blew on him and the area 'shook' to create a realistic illusion.
The virtual world allowed them to experience the impact of tools not being tethered and being dropped from height. The power of such technology can cause some really significant reactions and it is great to be able to see the reactions of those involved in trials and drive home the consequences of unsafe actions.
The idea going forward is to simulate situations for the workers who will be doing potentially dangerous jobs on construction sites. It's very much about behaviours – what makes someone put themselves or others at risk? This technology brings its importance to life. We are able to mock up different scenarios for training purposes and using BIM creatively we can plan logistics, install equipment, drive even more prefabrication off site by delivering safety improvements.
Be 'appy' on site
Because we are already using BIM to share information there is a logical evolution to develop mobile platforms where those on site can scan QR codes with their smartphones and immediately access videos and method statements/installation or delivery instructions on site.
This means people wouldn't have to travel back to the project office to view important safety or design information. It's all about providing instant information to people at the right time in the right place.
We believe apps will also be the future of site inductions. Download an app and then use Google cardboards to thrust our workers into virtual worlds. This will help us train not only our people, but our subcontractors and entire supply chain, saving cost and time whilst finding new ways of engaging our work force.
Factory safety to site
Emerging technology now allows us to do more in a factory environment. A contained factory work place means less people, less risk, less accidents. We can produce pre-assembled components embedding interfaces from multiple trades and skillsets. Modular elements can then be taken complete, streamlining logistics and reducing the amount of vehicles present as well as possible incidents. We are also able to set up local factories close to our sites for added efficiency and safety.
There is no doubt that embracing the exploding technology revolution is the future . If we want to engage and attract the next generation, as well as keep them safe, then we need to spark their interest and find new ways, using new technology, to educate them on the importance of safety on construction sites.