A new study from Dodge Data & Analytics reveals the engagement with and impact of two critical trends for improving construction safety—technologies used on job sites, and the practice of Prevention through Design (PtD). The study, conducted in partnership with the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) and United Rentals and published in the Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017 SmartMarket Report, is the third in a series of studies that demonstrate the financial and project benefits that contractors reap from their safety investments. It also shows the impact that new technologies 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, known formally as Prevention through Design (PtD) is still an emerging practice, but one well-positioned for wider acceptance in the design and construction industry. The full report is available for free download here.
The findings from the study on the benefits of safety investments, along with previous studies conducted in 2012 and 2015, show that investment in safety has a positive impact on project budgets, schedules, quality, and on business factors such as a contractor’s standing in the industry or ability to contract new work. And these impacts can be substantial: contractors reporting positive impacts on average see a nearly 5 percent reduction in project schedule and a 4 percent reduction in project costs.
“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,” says Steve Jones, senior director, industry insights research at Dodge Data & Analytics. “Safety investments clearly pay off in measurable ways and in ways that are harder to quantify, but that still have a major impact on a contractor’s business.”
The study followed up on the 2012 and 2015 findings on leading indicators of a positive safety culture and climate on job sites. For instance, safety & 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. “This survey helps us track what is happening in the industry relative to each leading indicator. These findings are extremely useful in identifying needs and opportunities for improvement,” says Chris Cain, executive director, CPWR.
The study examined the degree to which contractors are deploying technologies that can help improve job-site safety, a concept that was also examined in 2012. Different technologies were explored, including BIM, mobile tools and emerging technologies like drones and wearable devices. The findings reveal the ways in which technology is already helping to improve safety and how it is likely to do so in the future.
- Over two thirds of contractors who use BIM (69 percent) state that it has a positive impact on project safety, a 27-point increase over those who reported that in 2012.
- Over half of those reporting that positive impact attribute it to using BIM to identify potential site hazards before construction begins, to conduct clash detection, to support prefabrication and to create 3-D images.
- 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 percent of all contractors on-site. The documentation of site condition and work progress is fundamental to many safety efforts.
- Nearly half of contractors (42 percent) also employ safety inspection checklist apps, but use of mobile tools for safety training (35 percent) and to access safety and health websites (28 percent) is less common.
- Almost one quarter of contractors (21 percent) 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 percent) believe that these have a positive impact on safety.
- While wearable devices like badges with coded electronic information and smart helmets are only being used by 13 percent of contractors currently, 82 percent of those who use them report a positive impact on safety. This suggests that as these technologies become more widely known and more affordable, their potential for improving job-site safety increases.
“Technology is drastically improving job-site safety, providing tangible results in protecting workers and firms alike,” says Jim Dorris, United Rentals’ vice president of environmental, health and safety. “Evolving data platforms, tools, and service capabilities will deliver innovative new safety solutions, and United Rentals is excited about the emerging roadmap to safer projects of all types.”
Another emerging trend explored in the study is PtD: the effort to help 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 at least to some degree.
- Most architects (83 percent) report that they have worked with GCs and key trades before the completion of schematic design to identify opportunities for prefabrication.
- Roughly two thirds are either reviewing the design during schematic for safety during building operations/maintenance (68 percent) or use a life cycle safety approach to improve safety during building operations (66 percent).
- However, only about half of architects (51 percent) do 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 percent, followed by lack of client interest at 63 percent. Correspondingly, most architects (81 percent) would be influenced by requests from their clients to take this approach, and over two-thirds (68 percent) would be influenced by insurance incentives. With global studies linking between 22 percent and 63 percent of workplace fatalities to design-related factors, getting owners on board 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.
“The survey findings confirm two things we have been hearing for years,” says Cain. “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 job-site hazards, we will continue to see improvements in worker injuries, illnesses, and fatality rates.”