Construction wearables’ futuristic features that give you peace of Mind

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Every contractor should be actively investigating and evaluating how this wave can enhance their business, says an insurance official working with contractors on pilot programs.

Imagine a futuristic construction environment where employees are individually and automatically alerted to a hazardous situation prior to a would-be accident occurring. Workers’ levels of fatigue are monitored and measured one by one and the worker is warned when he or she is too close to moving equipment, edges or dangerous areas. A system autonomously informs them and their supervisors if an immediate behavior change is required to prevent injury.

Well, this type of jobsite is more feasible than you might think.  

Wearable technologies are making a significant splash in the market. As construction professionals, you might be asked to provide your opinion on this new technology, see a demonstration at a conference or participate in a pilot program. These requests will only increase as wearable technology becomes more prevalent in the construction sector.

Wearable technology presents the opportunity to improve safety, reduce injuries, improve efficiencies and enhance quality of life for construction workers.

While this technology is in the early stages of adoption, it shows tremendous promise for companies seeking to improve critical areas that drive efficiency, profitability and safety.

Defining wearable technology

An internet search for “wearable technology” returns thousands of definitions. The definitions apply to various industry sectors including healthcare, manufacturing and construction. In order to better understand how wearable technology can help contractors achieve their goals, though,

Construction wearables are devices, generally including a computer or advanced electronic device, worn on a construction worker’s body, clothing, or personal protective equipment, designed to collect and deliver data about the worker’s environment, activities and biometric conditions. The technology has the ability to detect and warn the employee of the potential for injury, or reduce the seriousness of an injury when one occurs.

Objectives are achieved by providing portable and timely access to sensors, computers and electronics. The industry’s emerging access to multifunctional technology and its ability to collect and analyze relevant data is revolutionizing worker protection.

How wearable technology can improve safety

Wearable technology will realize its objectives in numerous ways:

  • Devices can provide audible or vibration alarms to warn workers when they are too close to danger, such as moving equipment or a leading edge. 
  • Devices may warn the individual of a hazardous physical movement — such as bending, twisting, reaching or lifting.
  •  Devices may caution a worker when they are nearing exhaustion.
  •  Devices can alleviate muscular and skeletal joint stress by assisting with lifting or working overhead.  
  • In emergency situations, devices can alert emergency personnel and lead rescuers to the injured worker’s location.

Types of wearables

Predictions identify the widespread use of wearable technologies in construction over the next seven to 10 years. Currently, several technology and insurance companies are partnering with contractors to run pilot programs that test various types of wearables. 

Typical types of wearables currently being piloted, or in limited use on construction sites include the following:

  • Visual wearables — devices that use optical aids in or on glasses, visors and hard hats to produce images for remote viewers and/or the wearer.
    • Visual wearablescan bring value to training, troubleshooting, quality control and other situations where visual representation of a concept is needed. This type of wearable connects field employees to remote technical/supervisory employees, allowing both parties to view items simultaneously. Sharing visual information overlaid on actual work environments can enhance instructions, training and verification of practices and materials. Another benefit of this type of wearable is that field workers’ hands remain free to work while they are discussing solutions or working through an issue.
  • Tactile wearables — devicesthat work as an exoskeleton to increase the user’s strength and durability.
    • Tactile wearables are designed as exoskeletons that provide extra strength or endurance to the wearer. They also limit the force on the wearer’s muscular skeletal frame. Force is constantly monitored and the wearableresponds to protect the wearer. The potential for strains, sprains and back injuries can be reduced, while simultaneously increasing a wearer’s capacity and endurance.
  • Sensing wearables — devices that can sense a worker’s biological, environmental and physical conditions. In addition to sensing conditions, the device analyzes data using edge computing and warns the employee of hazardous situations that can lead to an injury.
    • Sensors come in many forms including badges, actuators, biosensors, gyroscopes and more. They record and evaluate the wearer’s physical condition, location and environment. These wearables can sense location, impact, motion, temperature, vital signs and blood gases and evaluate and interpret the data to provide actionable information.
    • Sensors can also be deployed in numerous configurations that make wearing them simple, easy and unobtrusive. Methods of deployment can include attachments to hardhats, safety glasses or personal protective equipment. Clip-on wearables can be attached to shirts, vests and belts. Edge computers can be contained in wrist bands or clip-on devices. Wearables can also be embedded in the sole of shoes or worn as insoles.

Wearables not only have value for individual workers — they can enhance a company’s ability to manage safety experiences as well. Most wearables feed data to customizable dashboards, which allows a company’s leadership to view and evaluate performance data associated with the entire organization, specific jobsites, job categories, job functions and employees. This data and subsequent analysis helps identify specific areas of exposures that have the potential to increase injuries. It also provides the opportunity to alter operations prior to accidents or injuries. wearables decreased unsafe lifting behaviors by up to 38 percent.

The predictive analytics produced by wearable devices, combined with behavioral changes by employees and corrective measures by leadership, present new opportunities to significantly reduce construction worker injuries. 

Implementing wearables in your organization

The data an organization desires should determine the wearable technology it chooses. For example, an organization concerned with the stress and strains of heavy overhead work may investigate exoskeleton wearables. Those concerned with material-handling exposures may utilize biomechanical wearables. When the location of employees and their physical health is critical, biometric wearables maybe more desirable. 

One of the easiest ways to introduce wearables to an organization is to participate in a pilot program. Many insurance carriers offer pilots through affiliated agencies. Cost sharing, brand recognition and industry expertise are just a few of the benefits of participation.

The wearables wave is approaching quickly and gathering speed. As jobsite connectivity, data aggregation and edge computing evolve, wearables will become more prevalent. Every contractor should be actively investigating and evaluating how this wave can enhance his or her business.

Wearable technology in construction is increasing on the job site. Some of these wearables improve comfort, while others improve safety. As the world progresses further and these ideas become more advanced, they will be more prevalent on sites.

The increased spending and investment in the Internet of Things means that wearables will continue to grow in popularity with roughly 20% of Americans wearing technology. Wearable technology is commonly a watch that allows people to track their steps and fitness, respond to messages, receive directions and more. As they become less expensive and more prevalent, those technologies will trickle into construction to offer more options. For now, here are just some of the top construction wearables to watch for in 2019.
 

Smart Cap

Smart Cap is out of a science fiction novel, but it has the possibility of really improving safety. This construction wearable uses brain waves to monitor fatigue. When workers are fitted with a Smart Cap hat or hard hat, it measures their fatigue to prevent micro-sleeps. If a worker starts to go to sleep it sends alerts through vibrations and noise to let the wearer know they should stop what they’re doing. This will keep workers alert on the job site. And it gives supervisors the ability to know if someone is falling asleep. This way they can get them to a safer place to wake up so no accidents occur.
 

Spot-R

Spot-R Clips by Triax Technologies are a construction wearable that will be prevalent on job sites in the future. The Spot-R clips can identify the number and location of workers on a site at any time. And the built-in gyroscope alerts supervisors to the location of someone that has tripped, slipped, or fallen. With push-button alerts, workers can signal if they’re injured and receive attention sooner. Project managers can assign the Spot-R clips to specific workers. So you know who is using a piece of equipment without having to physically check. And the site-wide evacuation portion of the app alerts workers if they need to evacuate.
 
The Spot-r also has a self-alert button. So if there is another type of event or emergency workers can press the button and alert the superintendent or project manager. And they can react appropriately to the hazard.
 
This technology stands to improve construction site safety immensely. Due to the large size of construction sites, it can be hard to get help to someone when they fall or have an accident. It can improve response times to incidents and injuries, and hopefully reduce fatalities. And even the potential false alarm is worth it if it can save a life.
 

HoloLens

Microsoft’s Original HoloLens made its way into construction. The HoloLens allowed for users to overlay 3D building plans over a job site. The building plans are to scale with the HoloLens. So project managers see how things will work on the site before it’s built. In trials, project managers have seen parts that won’t fit on the site before the piece has arrived. Then parts are resized or fixed before they arrive at the site. For now, project managers use the HoloLens on project sidelines. However, it’s certified protective eyewear.
 
Microsoft recently released the HoloLens 2, offers many of the same features. However, users now have a more comfortable solution for longer wear sessions. Trimble partnered with Microsoft to ensure a construction related app and workflows so users can get their job plans and more right on the site. It allows the use of better workflows to leverage the mixed-reality. This type of technology offers a lot of productivity boosts to contractors as they can see in real-time how the plan overlays with the site. This type of technology will help reduce the amount of rework that happens in construction.
 

Microsoft HoloLens on Amazon.com

Heated Jackets

Heated jackets aren’t necessarily a new construction wearable. However, the technology is getting better. Jackets have battery packs that can heat for 8 hours or more. The jackets are lighter now. With most weighing around 2 pounds or less. And companies like DeWalt and Milwaukee are making them reflective for construction and other workers. Other companies, like Ravean, are using rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries for their jackets. It reduces the number of batteries wearers must purchase. And it could even be charged in a vehicle. And more jackets are coming with a variety of heat settings to better fit wearer needs.
 

DeWalt Reflective Heating Jacket on Amazon.com

WORK BOOTS GET SMART

Sole Power is a construction technology start up that has designed a boot with multiple technologies. Not yet available on the market, SmartBoots are being tested this spring with a group of select companies.

“SmartBoots are part of a footwear-based program that aims to increase jobsite visibility and establish metrics from which workflow and safety improvements can be made,” says Alexander.

“Embedded sensors and communication technology enable real-time location and accountability inside and outdoors. For field service inspections or equipment checks, embedded RFID tags can automatically verify that tasks are complete. With consistent monitoring, there is no more guesswork about who is on site and where they are at any time.”

The pilot version of the boots includes:

  •        GPS (global positioning system)
  •        Ultra wideband
  •        RFID
  •        IMU (inertial measurement unit)
  •        Sub-GHz RF
  •        Thermocouple
  •        Wi-Fi
  •        Altimeter

Sole Power’s technology has the functionality of multiple stand-alone wearables combined into a single, compact, self-charged platform. At the core of the system is an Army-tested, patented kinetic charger which uses walking motion to sustainably charge sensors embedded inside the boots.

“With SmartBoots, workers will see their own stats and be empowered to work with their managers to identify areas for improvement,” says Alexander. “It is important to pilot these new technologies with managers and teams who have an open mindset and follow a ‘bottom up’ approach involving the workers and integrating feedback versus a ’top down’ approach.

Adopting these types of tech will require some level of disruption, but there are many use cases such as truck and vehicle telemetrics that have resulted in significant savings and safety improvements.”

Conclusion

As time progresses we’ll see an increase in wearable construction technology. One day their might be watch apps that allow workers to clock in through their smart watch and move about the site. This would send better data back to the office to understand productivity and hazards on a site. The future of wearable construction technology is endless, products beyond our wildest dreams will permeate the future.

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