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Safety at the Speed of Business: The Role of Digitized Safety and Compliance in the Modern Construction Environment

By Dwight Abshire,Vice President, HSEQ Bilfinger North America

Safety at the Speed of Business: The Role of Digitized Safety and Compliance in the Modern Construction EnvironmentDwight Abshire,Vice President, HSEQ Bilfinger North America

We have long known, and recent OSHA statistics confirm it: construction is one of the most dangerous of all industries in which to work. One out of every five worker deaths in the U.S. is construction related. Non-fatal injuries cost companies millions of dollars each year in a work stoppage and lost productivity and also take anenormous human toll.

Over time, the industry has responded with more robust training and complex safety management systems. Yet despite these innovations, serious dangers still remain. Here, digitizationis making a difference, transforming safety cultures through data collection that produces better and more efficient work processes and improved analyses, collaboration, and decision-making.

Safety at the speed of business

Construction sites are dynamic environments that can change day to day, hour by hour. It’s difficult for supervisors to know which workers are on-site and what tasks are being completed. Besides, they must communicate safety incidents or other hazards when they are relying on, in some cases, manual processes, daily logs, emails, and other old-school solutions.

Digitization or app-based safety enables us to move at the speed that our business demands, communicating events within minutes throughout the organization. For instance, if a dropped tool event happens at a project site, the app-based system could be prompted to send out a notification to every employee in the company that an event occurred with the necessary details.

The system could also send a reminder that if you’re working at heights, please be sure you understand the “Dropped Objects” policies and secure your tools and equipment.

Making safety personal

The greatest benefit of app-based safety is that people cannot just participate but also see their individual contributions. With many systems workers input observations, inspections, and audits, but there isn’t a detailed individual feedback process on how they’re helped enhance the overall safety of their organization or even how they are tracking to the expectation.

With app-based safety on the other hand each worker has their own individual dashboard that collects and displays data that is important to them: their safety training, audits, observations, inspections and walk throughs, and what outcomes have occurred as a result of their contributions beyond the routine observation and inspection process.

In general, people want to know that their efforts matter and that they can make a difference. Digitization creates personalization and collaboration and individualizes efforts. It empowers people to step up and report what they’ve observed and be recognized for their contributions, not just by stopping an event but preventing it.

App-based safety also enables foremen to assess their crew’s safety and quality performance. Using a dashboard, they can see what safety training each crew member has had. They can view the JSAs that are maintained in the systems and adjust them as needed. They know instantly if one of their crew members is falling below an acceptable safety, threshold allowing them to focus on at-risk crew members and helping them improve their behaviors and attitudes.

Streamlining compliance

As a contractor, we are responsible for ensuring that our projects meet the compliance guidelines set by Local, State, and Federal agencies. We are also responsible, in most cases, for maintaining compliance with the permits and standards issued to our clients.

With digitization we can take the compliance requirements and build them into our program, including scheduling, notifications, and reporting. This allows us to automate what you do and how you do it, providing a digital record that helps keep you and your client compliant and protected.

Transforming the safety culture

Digitization of safety is a journey. We’ve evolved from paper-based processes to Excel spreadsheets, to rudimentary digital tools like RFID scanners. Today, an effective digital strategy weaves together available technologies allowing usto collect high-quality data, standardize and automate data collection then perform advanced analytics.

We have mobile apps that can run simultaneously on tablets in the field, allowing for multiple data streams to be collected instantly at the time and place it is produced. We have sensory equipment that can read concentrations of chemicals in the atmosphere and send alerts or detect if a worker should fall. Sensors on equipment can read maintenance records and disable it if it has exceeded runtime thresholds. Location sensors allow us to geo-fence work areas to prevent access to unauthorized workers and equipment.

In short, we can digitize the information we collect, put it into a safety platform, which is considered the source of truth, and know at any time the health of each project and the entire organization. We still need detailed investigations and legwork, but if there’s something immediate, we can fix it. If it’s a trend, the data gives me the ability to have lessons learned immediately.

The goal of digitization should not be to computerize our processes. We want to put processes in place that let us correlate, write algorithms, and be predictive, which allows us to be proactive so that nothing happens without prior warning and anticipation. As for safety professionals, it’s not just a goal but an obligation.

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