Technology and Prevention through Design

A new study from Dodge Data & Analytics reveals the engagement with and impact of two critical trends for improving construction safety — technology used on jobsites and the practice of Prevention through Design (PtD). The study was conducted in partnership with the nonprofit Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and United Rentals, Inc., one of the largest equipment-rental companies in the world, and published in the Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017 SmartMarket Report. It is the third in a series that demonstrates the financial and project benefits contractors reap from safety investments. It also shows the impact new technology being deployed onsite — from building information modeling (BIM) to drones to wearable devices — have on improving safety.

Finally, it suggests that active consideration of safety during building design, formally known as PtD, is still an emerging practice but well positioned for wider acceptance in the design and construction industry. The full report is available for free download here.

Findings from the study on the benefits of safety investments, along with studies conducted in 2012 and 2015, show that 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 win new work. These impacts can be substantial. On average, contractors reporting positive impacts see a nearly 5% reduction in project timelines and 4% reduction in project costs. Steve Jones, senior director, Industry Insights Research, Dodge Data & Analytics, stated:

"Consistently, contractors have reported that they receive project and business benefits from safety, even across dramatically different construction markets, such as the ones in 2012 and 2017. Safety investments clearly pay off in measurable ways, in ways that are harder to quantify, but still have a major impact on a contractor's business.”

The study follows up on 2012 and 2015 findings on leading indicators of a positive safety culture and climate on jobsites. For instance, safety and health training for supervisors and workers, one of the eight indicators, is up from 2015, while recognizing the importance of good communication, another of the indicators, is down. Chris Cain, executive director of CPWR, said the survey helps track what is happening in the industry relative to each leading indicator. "These findings are extremely useful in identifying needs and opportunities for improvement," Cain said.

Smartphone use is nearly ubiquitous onsite, and tablet use is widespread and growing.

The study examined the degree to which contractors are deploying technology that can help improve jobsite safety, a concept    also examined in 2012. Different technologies were explored, including BIM, mobile tools and emerging technology like drones and wearable devices. The findings reveal the ways technology is already helping improve safety and how it is likely to do so in the future. It was discovered that:

• More than two-thirds of contractors who use BIM (69%) state it has had a positive impact on project safety, a 27-point increase over those who reported a positive impact in 2012.

• More than half of those reporting positive impact attribute it to using BIM to identify potential site hazards before construction begins.

The biggest barrier to wider use of PtD among architects is concern about taking on construction liability, reported by 79%, followed by lack of client interest at 63%.

• Smartphone use is nearly ubiquitous onsite, and tablet use is widespread and growing. This allows for use of mobile tools like cameras to be used by 85% of all contractors onsite.

• Nearly half of contractors (42%) also employ safety-inspection checklist apps, but use of mobile tools for safety training (35%) and to access safety and health websites (28%) is less common.

• Almost one-quarter of contractors (21%) use drones to promote safety onsite for functions such as reality capture that allow for digital analysis of existing conditions, and almost three-quarters of them (70%) believe these have a positive impact on safety.

• While wearable devices like badges with coded electronic information and smart helmets are being used by only 13% of contractors currently, 82% of those who use them report a positive impact on safety. This suggests that, as these technologies become more widely known and affordable, their potential for improving jobsite safety increases.

Another emerging trend explored in the study is PtD: the effort to improve construction safety by actively considering safety issues during design, from the schematic stage forward. The study included an architect survey on this issue, which found that, while few architects were aware of the formal name for this process before taking the survey, the use of key PtD practices occurred to some degree. According to the survey:

• Most architects (83%) report they have worked with general contractors and key trades before the completion of schematic design to identify opportunities for prefabrication.

• Roughly two-thirds are either reviewing the design during the schematic process for safety (68%) or use a lifecycle-safety approach to improve safety during building operations (66%).

• Only about half of architects (51%) perform similar reviews to optimize construction safety.

The biggest barrier to wider use of PtD among architects is concern about taking on construction liability, reported by 79%, followed by lack of client interest at 63%. Correspondingly, most architects (81%) would be influenced by requests from their clients to take this approach, and more than two-thirds (68%) would be influenced by insurance incentives. With global studies linking 22-63% of workplace fatalities to design-related factors, getting owners onboard with demanding this approach, providing liability coverage for architects seeking to practice it and getting insurance companies to reward them appear to be powerful ways to enhance the safety records of buildings. Cain states:

"The survey findings confirm two things we have been hearing for years: 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 jobsite hazards, we will continue to see [reductions in] worker injuries, illnesses and fatality rates."