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Researchers quantify returns on safety technology investments

A new Dodge Data & Analytics study reveals the engagement with and impact of two critical trends for improving construction safety: Technologies used on jobsites, from building information modeling (BIM) to drones to wearable devices; and, Prevention through Design (PtD), an emerging practice positioned for wider acceptance in the design and construction industry.

“Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017” findings show that investment in safety has a positive impact on project budgets, schedules, quality, plus business factors such as a contractor’s standing in the industry or ability to contract new work. Impacts can be substantial, authors note: Contractors reporting positive impacts on average see a nearly 5 percent and 4 percent reductions in project duration and costs, respectively.

“Consistently, contractors have reported that they receive project and business benefits from safety, even across dramatically different construction markets, such as the ones in 2012 and 2017,” says Dodge Senior Director, Industry Insights Research Steve Jones. “Safety investments clearly pay off in measurable ways and in ways that are harder to quantify, but still have a major impact on a contractor’s business.”

The study followed up on findings from 2012 and 2015 research on leading indicators of a positive safety culture and climate on jobsites. For instance, safety & health training for supervisors and workers, one of the eight indicators, is up from 2015, while recognizing the importance of good communication, another of the indicators, is down. “This survey helps us track what is happening in the industry relative to each leading indicator. These findings are extremely useful in identifying needs and opportunities for improvement,” says Center for Construction Research and Training Executive Director Chris Cain.

The study examined the degree to which contractors are deploying technologies that can help improve jobsite safety, a concept that was also examined in 2012. Different technologies were explored, including BIM and mobile tools plus emerging technologies like drones and wearable devices. The findings reveal the ways in which technology is already helping to improve safety and how it is likely to do so in the future.

Over two-thirds of contractors who use BIM (69 percent) state that it has a positive impact on project safety, a 27-point increase over those who reported that in 2012. Over half of those reporting that positive impact attribute it to using BIM to identify potential site hazards before construction begins; conduct clash detection; support prefabrication; and, create 3D images. Smartphone use is nearly ubiquitous onsite, and tablet use widespread and growing. This allows for mobile tools like cameras to be used by 85 percent of all contractors onsite. Site condition and work progress documentation is fundamental to many safety efforts.

INSPECTION APPS

Nearly half of contractors (42 percent) responding to the “Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017” survey employ safety inspection checklist apps, but cite limited use of mobile tools for safety training (35 percent) and visits to safety and health websites (28 percent). Almost one-quarter of contractors (21 percent) use drones to promote safety onsite for functions such as reality capture that allow for digital analysis of existing conditions, and almost three-quarters of them (70 percent) believe that these have a positive impact on safety.

While wearable devices like badges with coded electronic information and smart helmets are only being used by 13 percent of contractors currently, 82 percent of those who use them report a positive impact on safety. This suggests that as these technologies become more widely known and more affordable, their potential for improving jobsite safety increases.

“Technology is drastically improving jobsite safety, providing tangible results in protecting workers and firms alike,” says United Rentals Vice President of Environmental, Health and Safety Jim Dorris. “Evolving data platforms, tools, and service capabilities will deliver innovative new safety solutions, and United Rentals is excited about the emerging roadmap to safer projects of all types.”

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The study behind the SmartMarket Report was conducted in partnership with the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and United Rentals. “Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017” is available for free download from www.construction.com/toolkit/reports.

Another emerging trend explored in the study is PtD: the effort to help improve construction safety by actively considering safety issues during design, from the schematic stage forward. The study included an architect survey on this issue, which found that while few architects were aware of the formal name for this process before taking the survey, the use of key PtD practices occurred at least to some degree.

Most architects (83 percent) report that they have worked with general contractors and key trades before the completion of schematic design to identify opportunities for prefabrication. Roughly two thirds are either reviewing the design at schematic phase for safety during building operations/maintenance (68 percent), or use a lifecycle approach to improve safety during building operations (66 percent). However, only about half of architects (51 percent) do similar reviews to optimize construction safety.

The biggest barrier to wider use of PtD among architects is concern about taking on construction liability, reported by 79 percent, followed by lack of client interest at 63 percent. Correspondingly, most architects (81 percent) would be influenced by requests from their clients to take this approach, and over two thirds (68 percent) would be influenced by insurance incentives. With global studies linking between 22 percent and 63 percent of workplace fatalities to design related factors, getting owners on board with demanding this approach, providing liability coverage for architects seeking to practice it, and getting insurance companies to reward them appear to be powerful ways to enhance buildings’ safety records.

“The survey findings confirm two things we have been hearing for years,” says Cain. “Owners drive construction safety and health, and architects are reluctant to implement PtD solutions without client pressure. By ensuring the entire team, starting with the owner/client, focuses on preventing jobsite hazards, we will continue to see improvements in worker injuries, illnesses and fatality rates.”