In general, the construction industry still primarily relies on manual processes and other point solutions to monitor site operations and safety, and track important project information. It is not uncommon, for example, for an injured individual to rely on another worker to leave his/her work area and get help, or for supervisors to manually gather incident details and paper witness statements. Not only do these manual tasks delay incident reporting and response (and potentially increase injury severity), but they also trap important information at the job site — presenting a significant challenge for risk managers responsible for corporate risk structure and strategy across all active projects.
Thankfully, new technologies introduced over the past 18 months are replacing outdated methods and providing greater visibility to increase worker safety, improve reporting and reduce job site risk.
Related: Identifying construction risks
Continuous, data-driven safety improvement
Most leading construction firms consider injury prevention among their top priorities and are focused on improving industry practices to accomplish that. Gilbane Building Company, for example, has instituted Gilbane Cares, an overarching philosophy that permeates its organization based on the belief that everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and secure work environment. Its focus on safety prevention starts with thorough worker training, on-site medical support and a continued emphasis on everyone’s day-to-day role in maintaining site safety. These initiatives are furthered through a company-wide commitment to innovation and data-driven improvement, encouraging each department and function to find new ways to create value and take advantage of cutting-edge safety solutions.
One way that Gilbane has improved safety is by implementing wearable technology, which enhances visibility by automatically collecting information from workers on site. These Internet of Things (IoT) devices automatically detect falls, record safety data and streamline communication. They also provide automatic, real-time text message notifications, including the location and time of worker falls, so project leadership can deploy the appropriate response services more quickly and effectively, reducing the likelihood of compounded injuries. These notifications also allow project leaders to better investigate the circumstances leading up to an incident, providing critical context that can minimize risk exposure for future incidents.
Research shows that the longer it takes to report a claim, the higher the cost of the claim. Using IoT technology, Gilbane has been able to identify when and where incidents happen on site as well as reduce the time it takes to report it. Safety leaders can add in photos or notes, for example, and in a situation where a claim does arise, contractors have objective data, such as the weather on site or nearby workers, to help recreate the conditions that led to a potential incident. Real-time worker locations help provide a list of probable witnesses, narrowing down the list from hundreds of total workers on site to a dozen. In addition, on-going and historical attendance information provide insight into whether or not — or how long — an individual may have worked leading up to or following a potential incident, helping to measure potential incident severity.
Importantly, new job site technologies allow workers to easily report hazards or unsafe conditions in the field, in real-time, enabling a more robust, cloud-based record of job site hazards and risk management practices. With this information, project leaders and teams are able to better understand — and if needed, change — worker behavior, safety procedures and how work is managed onsite.
By turning traditionally lagging indicators into leading ones, Gilbane has been able to better respond to safety situations as they arise, improve injury response time and eventually mitigate overall loss frequency and severity. Ultimately, better loss exposure helps reduce an organization’s experience modification rating, which lowers insurance costs. For this reason, the technology should be seen as an investment in employee safety and well-being that will far exceed any expenses incurred.
Working together to decrease risk
Most risk managers and construction companies understand the importance of their carrier relationships and the costs associated with their insurance programs. Increasingly, technology is playing a critical role in managing both the relationships and the costs. Technology — and the critical visibility and data it provides — allows contractors and their carriers to better identify, monitor and manage exposure every day, across all active projects.
Getting the industry to this pivotal point has required work and collaboration from contractors, solutions providers and insurance companies. Yet, there is more work to be done. Construction is a complex industry, and much like the job site itself, it’s constantly changing. By sharing collective experiences, we can further worker safety as well as productivity.
At Gilbane, bringing in different partners like technology providers and insurers, as well as multiple departments and functions within the organization to think through various use cases, benefits and operational considerations has been crucial. By testing solutions in the lab and in the field, the firm has been able to adopt integrated solutions that enable effective internal and external communications and further the Gilbane Cares culture of worker safety and employee engagement.
For the industry, investing in innovative safety- and risk-oriented technology tools is an investment in the overall workforce as well as an organization’s reputation, quality and ability to win new and repeat work. By working together to actively integrate technology and data in risk management policies, pricing, and practices, it’s possible to improve safety, mitigate losses, boost productivity, creating a win-win scenario for all stakeholders.
Don Naber is senior vice president and director of risk management for GIlbane Building Company. Jason L. Pelkey is senior vice president and chief information officer of Gilbane. Rebecca Severson is the vice president and corporate director of safety for Gilbane Building Company. They can be reached through the company’s website (https://www.gilbaneco.com/contact-us/.).