Construction Enters the IoT Age

Uses Data-Driven Visibility to Improve Safety, Reduce Risk on the Jobsite

By Ian Ouellette, Triax Technologies

Construction projects are on the rise across the country – from the growth of mixed use buildings in urban areas, to major renovations taking place in higher education and K-12 institutions. How can contractors and those responsible for building maintenance ensure the safety of workers, occupants and the general public during such disruption? Many are turning to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to gain greater visibility and control. 

According to market research firm, IDC, worldwide IoT spending will surpass the $1 trillion mark in 2022. It’s already disrupting many industries – from gathering sensory data on agricultural crops, trucking routes or the state of consumer appliances, to monitoring patient heart rates in healthcare. Construction has joined this IoT revolution. A study released by Dodge Data and Analytics, in partnership with Triax Technologies, found that nearly three-quarters of contractors surveyed believe IoT will help them control occupational risks, and about half expect it to reduce risks to the public, as well as financial risks and those related to property damage and construction defects.

So how is IoT helping to reduce risk, while increasing productivity on the construction site?  

Improving Worker Safety on the Chaotic Construction Site

Construction remains an inherently challenging environment, with heavy materials, machinery and equipment, as well as multiple subcontractors and tradesmen all working at once. 

Along with these challenges, a serious labor shortage is forcing general contractors to hire from an increasingly limited pool. Being short-staffed comes with its own safety and operational risks, and when builders rush to complete a project, corners may be cut, safety procedures may be overlooked, and more accidents may happen. 

Given this environment, it’s no wonder that it ranks among the highest industries for worker injuries. But, in addition to the potential for injuries, safety incidents on the jobsite can have significant business impact, leading to lost time, decreased productivity and employee morale, along with rising insurance costs.

To improve safety across the project chain, owners/developers, contractors and subcontractors, are increasingly turning to IoT data, gathered in real-time from sensors worn by workers or tagged on equipment, to gain remote visibility into what is happening. How many workers are on site by trade and sub; how many safety incidents have occurred on site; where did they happen and who was nearby, are all key questions that need to be answered. IoT technology and analytics are helping to answer these questions and more, replacing assumptions with real-time data. 

In addition, wearable devices are not only showing the available manpower and location of your workforce, but it also can help detect and document worker falls, provide tools for workers to report hazards/signal distress in the field, and communicate the need to evacuate in real-time, from anywhere on the site.

Contractors armed with real-time jobsite data aggregated from IoT-based devices can better understand – and if needed, change – worker behavior, safety procedures and how work is managed onsite to take a more proactive approach to safety. Instead of locking insights into paper logs or files based on subcontractor, project or region, IoT-enabled, real-time safety data analysis allows construction companies to share these project insights with other key stakeholders and apply learnings to the next project, enabling continuous refinement of safety practices and procedures.

Keeping the Public Safe

With construction projects on the rise across healthcare facilities, schools and mixed-use buildings, it’s not only the safety of workers that needs to be addressed, but also the security of the general public and occupants of buildings.  When workers are equipped with IoT-based wearable sensors that are compatible with access control technology, it can ensure compliance with regulations by granting entry through a turnstile only to workers with up-to-date training and certifications as well as authorization to be on site.

Further, with beacons placed at areas that are off limits to workers, such as student restrooms, patient hospital rooms or completed apartment floors, projects managers can see in real-time if a worker is near one of these places of interest.

Managing the Financial Risk 

Since time really is money when it comes to construction projects, IoT technology is solving another critical need by helping contractors manage financial risk. It enables them to keep track of, and effectively manage, the many moving parts on a jobsite – including people, equipment, tools and more, to keep projects on time and on budget. 

Contractors are beginning to use analytics, driven by data captured from IoT sensors, to improve efficiency on the jobsite, better forecast projects and keep them on track. For example, by putting sensors on equipment and tools, contractors can reduce the time wasted in tracking them down. This is a sorely needed capability considering that an average construction worker spends about 20 percent of their time waiting for materials, equipment, or information, according to a study by the Department of Construction Science and Management at Clemson University. 

As with many other industries, IoT is becoming the must-have technology in the construction tool belt. It holds great promise in providing the data-driven insights that can improve the efficiency of a construction site, and the safety of workers and the general public. As it continues to take hold and evolve, we can expect to see new uses, integrations and innovations that will help usher in a safer and smarter approach to construction.