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Maintaining Safety and Security During Major Construction Projects

Construction

Construction projects in public spaces such as schools and hospitals are on the rise across the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, education construction is estimated to have exceeded $98.9 billion in 2018; and in that same year, 12 hospitals and health systems announced or unveiled facility expansions and renovations with price tags of 1 billion dollars.

While this is great news for students, patients and others who occupy these types of public buildings in the long run, it can create difficulties in the short term for facility managers overseeing the projects, as well as those living through them. Facility managers are juggling a lot of priorities: keeping the public safe, while making sure work progresses on schedule and workers are qualified, certified and trained.

Adding to this complexity, construction sites can be inherently complex environments, with heavy machinery and equipment, hundreds of workers on site at a time, and many activities occurring simultaneously. Given these challenges, it’s important to consider how well the contractor managing your building project can address them.

Below are five important questions to ask your contractor before undertaking a renovation or construction project:

How are you using technology on the jobsite? Technology advances can provide the visibility, transparency and oversight required to manage complex projects. From Internet of Things (IoT)-based systems, drones and advanced cameras, to productivity software, scheduling solutions and other apps, best-in-class contractors should be using advanced technology to enable a connected jobsite. While the construction industry was traditionally seen as a technology laggard compared to other industries, that perception is becoming a thing of the past and the most effective contractors are leveraging these technologies to bring added value to the jobsite.

Many contractors are turning to technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and networks, to increase safety and security, reduce risk and operate more efficiently so projects can be wrapped up on a timely basis.

As another example, Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, which creates three-dimensional digital models of buildings, is helping contractors design and engineer structures more accurately, while improving project efficiency.

How will you help me keep the public safe? Given the high level of security requirements – especially in K-12 schools, it’s important that facility managers know who is on-site at all times to ensure the safety and privacy of students and building occupants. It’s important to ask what steps contractors take to ensure this safety. They may conduct regular worker training to communicate the importance of maintaining building perimeters, or physically mark boundaries.

In addition, many are outfitting tradesmen and other workers with IoT-based wearable sensors, so managers can see, in real time, every worker who is present by trade (plumbing, electrical, etc.) and where they are located as they move around the jobsite. By integrating IoT, contractors can monitor worker locations, providing peace of mind in these sensitive and secure environments. Beacons placed at areas that are off limits to workers, such as student restrooms or classrooms, or patient rooms and surgical floors –can communicate with wearable IoT devices so site supervisors can see in real-time if a worker is near one of these places of interest and intercede.

Are you in compliance with federal and local regulations? The focus on safety in construction is becoming of paramount concern as construction projects flourish across the country. For example, compliance to OSHA laws, means that contractors must ensure that workers have OSHA 30 training or face stiff fines. Facility managers should inquire about how well the contractor complies to mandated training, if they’ve ever received warnings or penalties for non-compliance and how they manage compliance. This could be through manual documentation carried on each worker, or through wearables that carry this certification information, which can be accessed as soon as workers enter the turnstile to immediately identify if a worker is supposed to be on site and has the necessary certification. Other technologies, such as advanced cameras can be used to augment worker identification.

How do you ensure the safety of your workers? In an occupied building, such as a school or hospital, it’s not only the public that needs to be kept safe, but workers as well. Contractors should be able to demonstrate their commitment to worker safety.  They should be able to explain their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), or the amount of worker safety training they provide. They also can share OSHA 30 certifications. Many contractors conduct evacuation drills to ensure safe exit for workers in the event of an emergency, and others are using IoT sensors that automatically alert safety personnel to falls in real-time in the event of an incident, so they can get help to the scene faster, potentially reducing or limiting the severity of injuries. Workers also can simply push a button on these devices to send immediate notifications to supervisors about unsafe working conditions, enabling workers to be active participants in the site safety culture.

IoT sensors also are often used on equipment, such as forklifts, that can communicate with workers’ devices to help ensure that only those who have the proper credentials are using them.

How quickly can you wrap up the project? Hearing that a major renovation project is nearing completion is music to a facility manager’s ears. The faster projects are wrapped up, the sooner they can get back to their day-to-day work.  A contractor should be able to give him/her a realistic timeline for project completion and provide regular updates if delays occur.

This is also another area where technology can help contractors operate more productively to better meet project deadlines. For example, by putting sensors on equipment and tools, contractors can reduce the time wasted in tracking them down. Monitoring worker activities as well as equipment location, they also can see where projects may be progressing slower than they should because of inaccessibility of materials or time wasted tracking down equipment, for example, and make necessary adjustments. Gathering valuable data through advanced software also enables contractors to better analyze past projects to gain insights into time estimates for future projects.

Renovations and other construction projects in schools and hospitals are almost always a boost to communities and the public they serve, yet they can be anything but peaceful for facility managers who must ensure that day-to-day operations continue with as little disruption as possible. Gaining greater peace of mind is possible when you ask your contractor the right questions to keep projects on time and on budget, and most importantly as safe as possible for the public and workers alike.

Ian Ouellette is VP of Product at Triax Technologies, a leading provider of technology for the connected jobsite. He can be reached on LinkedIn or via email.