Study shows benefits of two critical trends for improving construction safety

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A new study from Dodge Data & Analytics, New York, reveals the improvement of construction safety can be led by two critical trends—technology used on job sites and the practice of Prevention through Design, according to www.construction.com.

The study was conducted in partnership with the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and United Rentals and published in the Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017 SmartMarket Report. It is the third in a series of studies that demonstrate the financial and project benefits that contractors receive from their safety investments.

The study shows the effects new technologies being employed on job sites—from building information modeling (BIM) to drones to wearable devices—have on improving safety. It also suggests active consideration of safety during building design, known formally as Prevention through Design (PtD), is an emerging practice well-positioned for broader acceptance in the design and construction industries.

The findings from the study regarding the benefits of safety investments, along with previous studies conducted in 2012 and 2015, show investment in safety has a positive effect on project budgets, schedules, quality and business factors such as a contractor's standing in the industry or ability to contract new work. Data include contractors reporting positive effects on average of a nearly 5 percent reduction in project schedule and 4 percent reduction in project costs.

The study examined the degree to which contractors are deploying technologies that can help improve job-site safety—a concept that was also examined in 2012. Following are some of the findings:

  • Sixty-nine percent of contractors who use BIM say it has a positive effect on project safety. More than half of those reporting that positive effect attribute it to using BIM to identify potential site hazards before construction begins to conduct clash detection, support prefabrication and create 3-D images.
  • Smartphones basically are used on all job sites, and tablet use is widespread and growing. This allows for use of mobile tools such as cameras to be used by 85 percent of all contractors onsite. The documentation of site conditions and work progress is important to many safety efforts.
  • Forty-two percent of contractors employ safety inspection checklist apps, but use of mobile tools for safety training (35 percent) and to access safety and health websites (28 percent) is less common.
  • Twenty-one percent of contractors use drones to promote job-site safety, and 70 percent of them believe these have a positive effect on safety.
  • Although wearable devices such as badges with coded electronic information and smart helmets currently are only being used by 13 percent of contractors, 82 percent of those who use them report a positive effect on safety, signaling their potential as such devices become more well-known and affordable.

"Technology is drastically improving job site safety, providing tangible results in protecting workers and firms alike," says Jim Dorris, United Rentals' vice president of environmental, health and safety. "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."

Regarding the PtD aspect of the study, it found that although 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.

  • Eighty-three percent of architects report they have worked with general contractors and key trades before completing a schematic design to identify opportunities for prefabrication.
  • About two-thirds of architects are either reviewing the design during schematic for safety during building operations/maintenance (68 percent) or use a lifecycle safety approach to improve safety during building operations (66 percent). However, only 51 percent of architects do similar reviews to optimize construction safety.
  • Seventy-nine percent of architects shy away from using PtD because they are concerned about taking on construction liability, and 63 percent of architects cite a lack of client interest.
  • Eighty-one percent of architects would be influenced by clients' requests to use PtD, and 68 percent would be influenced by insurance incentives.

"The survey findings confirm two things we have been hearing for years," says Chris Cain, executive director of CPWR. "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 job-site hazards, we will continue to see improvements in worker injuries, illnesses and fatality rates."

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