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The Impact of Technology and Digital Processes on Safety in Construction

    By Stephen Jones, Senior Director, Industry Insights Research

    The Industry Insights Research team at Dodge conducts dozens of quantitative surveys every year on key trends in the global AEC industry and publishes the findings in free reports. Regardless of the topic, we always try to determine its impact it on construction safety, ranging from jobsite processes and performance tracking to culture and technology. That last element is particularly important because often technology tools focus primarily on productivity and efficiency. We want to make sure that safety is a top priority as well. Below are some of the safety-related findings from recent studies and links to where you can access them for free. 

    Prefabrication and Modular Construction 

    Although both of these currently fast-growing trends have been practiced for many years, they are increasingly becoming technology-driven, especially with BIM and design-for-manufacture production systems.  Our study explored the safety impact of each. 

    Regarding prefabrication:

    • 83% of general contractors/CMs and 86% of trade contractors report improved safety performance from its use.
    • 31% of the trades report a very high level of impact, which makes sense because their workers are typically most at risk in conventional site-built construction.  

    Regarding modular construction:

    • Similarly high percentages of GC/CMs (85%) and trade contractors (86%) also report improved safety performance because of their engagement with modular construction. 
    • Trades are even more enthusiastic than about prefabrication, with 39% reporting very high safety impact from modular. 

    Trades are leading the way in adopting digital tools for both of these, with 53% predicting they will be using BIM for prefabrication by 2023 and 59% forecasting that for their engagement with modular. The report details the multiple benefits generated by each approach, and we are extremely pleased to see their direct positive impact on construction safety. 

    The Business Value of BIM for Mechanical and HVAC Construction

    Following the theme of trades beneficially engaging with digital processes, this report takes a deep dive into how mechanical contractors are receiving value from model-driven prefabrication. Specifically regarding safety:

    • 79% report that leveraging BIM for prefabrication improves worker safety, with 46% rating it as much better. 
    • When asked to quantify the improvement, over half say it is 10% or more. 
    • Plumbing is the most positively impacted with 91% citing that very high level of safety improvement.  

    Improving Performance with Project Data 

    This study examines how contractors are leveraging digital tools and processes to connect the field and the office more effectively. Collection and analysis of safety data is a critical element of that. Encouraging findings include: 

    • 34% of the companies who have improved their data gathering, reporting and analysis capabilities in the last three years say they have increased safety on projects.
    • That applies to almost half (48%) of the large companies in the study.
    • And half of the trade contractors in the study say that safety improvement is the top benefit they are receiving from their improved data capabilities.  

    This report also features: 

    • An in-depth study of wearable sensors for safety. 
    • An interview with a major construction company executive about jobsite image recognition for safety analysis.

    The Civil Quarterly 

    Civil contractors are always keenly interested in safety performance. A recent edition of this quarterly survey-based report asked them to identify the most important benefits they expect from a new technology they adopt. In response, 40% say improved safety performance is among the top three (out of seven) most important benefits they expect from a new technology. This finding serves as an important message to technology companies about the priority their customers place on safety. 

    Safety Management in the Construction Industry 

    Dodge produces a specific report on safety with CPWR every two years. The most recent edition was released in September 2021 and has a special focus on digitally driven safety programs. Over time, each successive report has shown an increase in the use of various technologies to improve safety. 

    • Several, such as BIM, drones and laser scanning are now well-established among users. 
    • Others are still maturing, such as remotely controlled equipment, wearable sensors, virtual reality for safety training and conducting predictive analytics from safety data
    • The newest are still emerging, such as 3D printing, photogrammetry, visual monitoring with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and augmented reality

    Although relatively few contractors are currently using some of these newer technologies, those who are often report deploying them on a high percentage of their projects. This commitment to implementation is an extremely powerful signal of the value they are receiving, and typically forecasts strong adoption by other companies as the evidence of benefits spreads. This is particularly true for:

    • Predictive analytics, where only 10% of contractors report using it, but over half of those (52%) are frequently deploying it.
    • Visual monitoring with AI, where only 5% are using it, but 47% of them are doing so frequently. 
    • And encouragingly, many of the contractors surveyed express the belief that both of those newer technologies have the potential to positively impact worker health and safety. 

    The report also features:

    • A case study of how a major contractor is implementing predictive analytics for safety.
    • A guide with eight steps to get started in developing a data driven safety culture at your company. 

    Dodge will continue to study safety in its research projects across the global AEC industry. I look forward to sharing the findings with you as we work together to create a safer and healthier working environment for everyone.