New technologies and methods to improve the safety of construction sites need to be implemented. They could be software-based, particularly in the form of safety management systems. They could be hardware-based, incorporating the use of sensors and wireless devices to connect both machines and personnel into a common system (the so-called Internet of Things). They could be based on predictive data or artificial intelligence or ergonomic devices.
These are the technologies that the construction industry can explore and leverage on to improve employees’ productivity as well as workplace safety and health.
It is important for us to shift our priority from OSH compliance to having an OSH culture that is employee-driven, i.e. one which rewards positive safety behaviours instead of disciplining negative behaviours.
Injury prevention and wellness plans for employees in the construction industry must be accorded the same top priority as preventive maintenance plans for machinery and timely delivery of the project.
Since new technologies are now taking over many of the tasks that formerly required low-skilled workers, we should take a fresher look at how we can creatively use technology to reduce risk, encourage safe behaviours and improve efficiency in the construction industry.
We should not hesitate to adopt digitalisation, innovative technologies and new construction techniques such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), autonomous equipment and advanced building materials, drone technology, robotics, and remote-controlled vehicles.
These also include wearable technology, visualisation technology and record keeping and communications systems.
The use of such technology will boost productivity and streamline project management and procedures while enhancing quality and safety.
The challenge for the construction industry, which was traditionally perceived as less glamorous than other sectors, is to recruit the requisite “digital” talent.
Use of technology would reduce the chance for human error and increase OSH awareness in real time through readily available data that can be computed to prevent accidents or potential hazards and determine unsafe behaviour or conditions.
Building Information Modelling would enable hazard elimination or substitution (design for safety). It would also help to enhance safety planning, awareness or communication as well as safety inspections.
An example is the automated safety-rule checking platform to identify potential hazards before work starts and suggest hazard prevention measures.
Virtual Reality (VR) is another new technology that would help the industry in improving its OSH compliance. It places the user directly inside the virtual environment so that he experiences a
full immersion into the virtual space.
VR can be used to simulate the construction process before work starts. For example, when a collapse occurs, it is contained within a virtual reality setting. With the use of VR, the cost of such a collapse would be minimal compared to an actual construction where work has already begun.
VR provides an opportunity to eliminate potential project hazards before construction begins, thus preventing workplace incidents that could result in direct harm to employees and also cause significant economic impacts on the project, including morale breakdown, cost overruns and delays.
Embracing digital transformation may be the best way to improve OSH in the construction industry to mitigate the human and capital costs of accidents at work.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE