September 9, 2019

Risk of injury comes with the territory for those working on construction sites. But that doesn’t mean that steps can’t be taken to eliminate physical hazards and risky practices to save lives and mitigate the potential for catastrophe.

IEEE Member Qi Dong is an expert in emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) and how they can support safety on construction sites, while also improving transparency and accountability in the supply chain.

Construction Sites

Dong highlights one of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Fatal Four” — the potential to be struck by a falling object — which caused nearly 60 percent of construction worker deaths in 2017.

“The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Construction of China, like OSHA, found being struck by a falling object to be a leading cause of fatalities on construction sites,” says Dong. “This  problem could be reduced by more strictly adhering to proper safety protocols.”

In order to address this problem directly, Dong highlighted a unique way that 4G/5G and AI are being leveraged in tandem to reduce risk, which he hopes will see wider adoption in the future.

“When construction workers do not wear hardhats or helmets on site, it is, extremely dangerous,” says Dong  “Luckily, advancements in AI, coupled with 4G/5G, are enabling supervisors to monitor their workers from afar, knowing when they are and aren’t wearing protective gear on site. So, when worksites are fashioned with sensors and other IoT devices, workers can be monitored in real-time.”

Emerging technologies can also support improved safety on worksites by providing the ability to proactively avoid hazards before they pose a serious threat to on-the-ground workers. Instead of addressing the problems caused by exposed wires, for example, after they’ve been stumbled upon and caused damage, many lives can be saved because technologies that enable their detection in advance.

Additionally, in the initial planning stages of a project, architects and engineers can leverage emerging technologies to better identify potential challenges, leading to worksites purposefully designed to support safety.

Infrastructure Monitoring

Danger isn’t necessarily removed once a project is complete; construction workers are often tasked with structural upkeep and large-scale modernization projects, which aren’t without risk.

“Historically, data on the status of a building and its structure had to be sourced by human monitoring, putting the lives of workers at risk,” adds Dong. Anytime a worker has to step foot on a site they’re at risk, of course.  Now, with cloud-based technologies and IoT devices rising in prominence, engineers are able to monitor the integrity of structures remotely and more efficiently.”

In addition to the safety emerging technologies immediately provide, they also enable engineers to better monitor structural integrity and disrepair over longer periods of time, empowering workers to engage in upkeep at the optimum time in the infrastructure lifecycle. This helps minimize concern about working on a deteriorating site with undetected and unpredictable structural issues that could lead to injury.

These benefits also extend to infrastructure modernization, for which many workers are continuously tapped.

The Supply Chain

Beyond the ability to improve safety on site, emerging technologies also provide improved visibility into the supply chain at various stages, which, according to Dong, is very important in terms of optimization, particularly on large-scale projects with many moving parts.

“Take concrete, for example. Trucks utilized for the delivery of concrete are often leased, so if all of them are equipped with 4G/5G communication modules, a construction company would have improved visibility into the supply chain process, better understanding how much concrete would arrive with each shipment, when each shipment would arrive by, and more,” Dong explains.

Such technologies lead to improved workforce planning and cost-efficiencies that enable construction companies and vendors to save money that may be allocated elsewhere.

Safety Standards

According to Dong, technical standards developed by IEEE are being utilized to promote safety in construction, particularly in regard to emerging technologies that are increasingly being deployed on worksites around the world.

“Increasingly we’re seeing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), WiFi-supported handheld devices, IoT-backed sensors, and other emerging technologies deployed in the construction industry.  Whether in the supply chain or on actual worksites, IEEE’s standards are supporting the safe application of these technologies, which are poised to play a major role in the construction industry moving forward.”

IEEE is committed to developing global standards in a broad range of industries to ensure the safe and ethical utilization of technology for the benefit of humanity; the organization has helped develop standards for over a century, many of which have heavily influenced the day-to-day life of individuals around the world.

Read more about how IEEE Standards are making construction practices safer and smarter here:

 IEEE 1654-2009 – IEEE Guide for RF Protection of Personnel Working in the Vicinity of Wireless Communications Antennas Attached to Electric Power Line Structures

IEEE P1814 – IEEE Draft Recommended Practice for Electrical System Design Techniques to Improve Electrical Safety

IEEE P2048.5 – Standard for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: Environment Safety

IEEE P2821 – Guide for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle-based Patrol Inspection System for Transmission Lines

IEEE P3007.3 – Recommended Practice for Electrical Safety in Industrial and Commercial Power Systems