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Building a Safer Culture in Construction

Aug. 19, 2022
A look at how technology and an agile mindset can make jobsites safer.

Keeping employees safe and out of harm’s way while on the jobsite is a top priority for any business in the construction industry. Tracking the minute details of jobsite incidents like injuries, falls, near-misses or hazards can be an onerous task, but it’s one that must be completed with pinpoint accuracy to keep people safe.

The moment an unsafe condition exists or an incident occurs, work should come to a stop so the appropriate teams can collect data on what happened to analyze the incident. From there, safety teams can develop a root cause analysis (RCA) and subsequent corrective action plans (CAP) to prevent a similar issue from happening again. While they sound straightforward, those steps take significant time and effort to implement. The problem is compounded when incident logs and other documents are hard to access for subsequent analysis and future reference.

Safety initiatives are just like any other project—they have stakeholders, milestones, objectives and usually some type of timeframe for completion. This is where the construction industry can benefit from additional usage of project management processes and technology, as construction projects tend to be complex in nature. Construction companies need to coordinate a multitude of contractors and subcontractors as well as keeping tabs on the status of every part of a job.

In an industry where technology adoption can be notoriously slow, there needs to be a seamless integration between the team members physically surveilling sites for incidents and the technology that can analyze that data. This is why it’s so important that the technology construction companies use must be agile: No two jobs are ever the same, and the tech being deployed to assist with it must be nimble enough to adapt from job to job.

Let’s take a look at the types of technologies available to assist safety managers and how to strike a balance between human operators and technology in order to tackle the challenges of efficiently tracking safety.

Safety is Complex

Finding the correct balance between what technology can help with and where human creativity and critical thinking can help is a tricky one to get right, especially in construction, where the human touch is a necessity.

The tracking and inspecting of on-site issues is a largely manual process that must be done with supervisors who are physically present; therefore, technology cannot act as a one-stop solution. Rather, there must be a balance between how much human touch is involved and what capabilities can be gleaned from agile technological solutions. Achieving this balance requires understanding what makes tracking these issues so complex.

On job sites, safety incidents are observed with the “see something, say something” credo. If an employee sees something unsafe or out of sorts, they report it to a supervisor, who can raise the red flag for a safety violation and launch a subsequent investigation.

The first set of complexities arise from the “see something” portion. These are usually the result of human dynamics, apathy and change management problems (e.g., internal politics, motivation or fear of repercussions). These factors all contribute to workers feeling unsure about reporting unsafe conditions or incidents. A worker may wonder, “Will I have to go through an uncomfortable interview process in order to not be taken out of context?” or perhaps, “I might be implicated here. I’m going to look the other way.”

The second set of issues stem from the “say something” part. These are more tactical and technical problems for safety managers. A worker may ask: How easy is it to report an issue? Will reporting this incident require filling out a lot of paperwork? Will reporting something take a lot of time? Where is this information supposed to be stored?

Technology’s Role in Keeping Workers Safe

While improving the “see something” portion is largely cultural and policy driven, the “say something” portion is where agile technology can assist in incident tracking. After an incident has been raised with a supervisor and an inspection is conducted, the data collected must be stored in a centralized location that is easily accessible for future analysis.

For people working in trades, however, their productivity is reduced the longer they spend on administrative tasks. This isn’t to say that manual tasks like reporting aren’t essential, but these processes can be improved to allow employees to get back to work quickly—and safely.

Providing the exact inputs to a mobile app or device is complicated, especially if those inputs and requirements frequently change. Another challenge is offline capability. In many cases, new build construction sites do not yet have the infrastructure for Wi-Fi and data coverage may be intermittent or unreliable.

A lack of connectivity in some places has led to a reliance on spreadsheets in the construction space. Spreadsheets can provide some value for companies; however, they are often the only tool that people in the field have that they can control. This has led to an overuse of them being created without any uniformity in the ways they’re created or shared.

For example, I’ve seen many instances in which massive workbooks contained within spreadsheets would barely even load. I’ve also seen some with highly complex macros and formulas to turn them into makeshift enterprise resource planning or inventory systems. Without concrete uniformity in the way they’re built, there’s no chance to effectively manage, govern, store or analyze the documents—and the data stored inside them. For safety managers, this is a big red flag, as this data is crucial to keeping employees safe and for staying in compliance with safety regulations.

Leveraging Agility for Safety

One way to combat the use of legacy tools like spreadsheets is through the use of no-code. No-code solutions enable anyone within an organization, regardless of technological background, to create applications and systems that create efficiencies and tackle complex problems.

The key benefit here is that those closest to the problem are the ones who can directly help solve it. This means that on-site supervisors can develop applications and data repositories on the fly to track and log the data for future analysis. No-code platforms are set up in such a way that they ensure the creation of these applications and systems are linked to back end data analytics tools, making pulling reports and analysis much easier for folks in the field looking for real-time insights on a job.

There are options that exist outside of no-code, such as point solutions or software as a solution (SaaS) tools, but they don’t offer flexibility in development. Those solutions are commonly brought in to only solve one element of the specific problem and are one-dimensional in nature. They can help to manage safety initiatives but only one element of them.

No-code technology offers the flexibility for safety managers to instantly track, share and log vital issues that pertain to keeping workers safe on-site. Users can easily collect data from safety tasks, such as on-site walk-throughs and production reports. From there, safety managers can leverage automation to generate insights and develop RCAs and CAPs.

In addition, no-code solutions can automatically help companies keep tabs on changing safety regulations and protocols from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as tracking facilities to ensure systems are up to code. This also presents an opportunity to keep all employee safety training in a centralized location and easily accessible to all when a new regulation arises or new certifications are required.

Safety is among the most important element of any job and getting safety management right is paramount. The operational agility offered through no-code solutions opens the door for anyone looking to solve a problem to become a safety expert. These solutions also help companies stay ahead of potential risks and dangerous situations in jobs moving forward.

As safety continues to evolve with the complexity of jobs, the technology used to track safety must be agile enough to adapt to these changes and give pertinent insights that will keep employees safe. Construction companies must look at the technology they have in place now and ask themselves if it can handle the complexities of today’s jobs. If not, it’s time to prioritize digital transformation and embrace a culture of safety through technology.

Jacob MacIntyre is director of the customer acceleration group at Quickbase. He has over 15 years of construction and project management experience and has previously worked for Portland General Electric, Harder Mechanical Contractors and Hoffman Construction.

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