Today’s construction industry still has the highest risk of accidents. Despite a steady decline in figures – 56.8 accidents per 1,000 employees in 2017, as compared to 64.8 accidents in 2013 – the ultimate goal of zero accidents is still a long way off. This realistic observation must not overshadow the considerable efforts put forward by building stakeholders, for whom this is a top priority. Over and above prevention policies and efforts to tighten regulations, the issue of safety can rely on a new wave of technological innovations that hint at radical change in the years to come.
Saved by connected objects
The building and civil engineering industry is not immune to the “connecting everything” trend. Central to the phenomenon are numerous safety-related applications that affect most equipment. The most advanced personal protective equipment (PPE) now includes sensors and haptic or audible interfaces to ensure operator safety. The Oscar hard hat developed by Bouygues E-Lab can detect high-voltage lines at a distance of five metres and emits a sound alarm to warn the user. The Rcup custom-designed insoles produce data that are then interpreted to improve health benefits; as such, they are a useful tool for optimising operator posture and movement! Similar developments are also occurring with regard to gloves and jackets, thereby suggesting the general use of connected protective equipment in the not-too-distant future.
From a different perspective, machines are also part of the digital revolution. Most of today’s innovations are around collision avoidance systems. Loxam has introduced the Skysiren PCS device which monitors obstacles or falling objects above and behind the operator and alerts them to potential hazards. The device can be used with heavy goods vehicles, radar, lidar (light detection and ranging) or ultrasonic sensors in order to broadly limit accidents involving machines and pedestrians. In the future, it will be possible to envision connected objects in a vast communicative ecosystem. Such a perspective is illustrated by Kiloutou’s Kare solution, which links vehicles directly to connected personal protective equipment.
Low tech is still essential
While digital technologies may be attracting a lot of attention, the time has not yet come to rid ourselves of older mechanical systems that continue to forge ahead. In terms of safety, exoskeletons are the most promising. In most cases, they help with movement and making the operator’s job easier in terms of lifting assistance, repetitive tasks at heights and assuming unnatural positions. Eksovest recommends a 4.3 kg harness capable of providing from 2.2 to 6.8 kg of assistance per arm, all without external energy input.
Focus on online training
In spite of efforts undertaken out in the field, the battle for safety is first and foremost won upstream, through prevention and awareness. These two areas also feature their fair share of innovation. The Coven start-up recommends a mobile escape game (in a truck) to raise awareness of safety issues in the industry of building and civil engineering works. Others, like Marmelade, have chosen the serious game path and added a touch of playfulness to prevention. Lastly, new interfaces such as VR (virtual reality) suggest an enormous field of investigation for more immersive awareness. Manpower has devised a 15-minute module that immerses temporary workers in ultra-realistic situations before they can get (or not) their qualifications certificate.
There can be no doubt that the marriage of new technologies and safety in the construction industry is well underway!