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Are Middle East HSE chiefs ready for wearable tech?

The adoption of wearable technology can lead to a new age of health and safety improvements for the construction sector, Oscar Rousseau finds

SPECIAL REPORTS, HEALTH & SAFETY, Health and safety, HSE chiefs, Middle east, Wearable technology

Construction work is hard, tiring, and at times extremely dangerous – but can wearable tech that monitors the health of the built world’s workforce help to minimise the likelihood of work-related injuries and fatalities in the Middle East?

New York-based scientific, technical, and medical information publisher Elsevier this year released a report that reviewed the burgeoning number of so-called ‘smart’ technologies and wearable devices that could bring construction up to speed with all the transformative technology. Smart gadgets can collect and analyse data on a broad range of metrics, and this information can be a useful element in the measurement and improvement of health and safety standards on construction sites.

Outlining the scope of the report – titled Wearable technology for personalised construction safety monitoring and trending – Elsevier said: “The adoption of wearable technology has the potential for a result-oriented data collection and analysis approach to providing real-time information to construction personnel.”

Traditional approaches to measuring safety performance on construction sites have largely been manual in nature, and thus may be open to subjective opinion. As a result, such an approach tends to rely on manual data collection. However, real-time data collection that wearable technology may be able to  provide to various project stakeholders, if used efficiently, can reduce the duration of data collection activities.

The evolution of mobile and digital technology has transformed many aspects of society, and innovations in wearable technology are noticeable in fields such as healthcare, technology, and sport. But  even in mature construction markets such as the US and Europe, the use of wearable technology is at a nascent stage,  and so far, few documented cases of the its application in the sector are available.

In the Middle East, examples of contractors using wearable technology are even scarcer. However, the lack of publicly available information about the number of construction companies in the Middle East that may be using wearable technology does not mean the industry has turned a blind eye to it.

From exoskeletons to augmented reality, there is a burgeoning catalogue of wearables available on the market, all of which promise to improve safety, efficiency, and morale on local construction sites.

One area that could be potentially important for workers in the industry is physiological monitoring. Workers on building sites may encounter various health risks due to the very nature of the environment in which they operate, and this can impact the safety performance of construction workers. But physiological status monitoring (PSM) systems can collect information about heart rate, breathing rate, body posture, body speed, and body acceleration. Using this with a GPS tracker, a construction worker’s health can be analysed and monitored throughout the day.

Due to the risk of contact injuries on construction sites, another area companies could explore is proximity detection technology. Elsevier’s report notes that the construction market needs a “wireless, reliable, and rugged technology capable of sensing and alerting workers when hazardous proximity issues exist”. 

A proximity avoidance system could prove useful in such situations. The most commonly available system on the market incorporates radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track things, in this case, workers. The system can provide a warning signal to workers when they are close to heavy equipment, potentially preventing accidents and injuries on site, thus improving overall site safety as well.

Talk of RFID and PSM systems may seem presumptive at the moment as there is little research to date on the use of wearable technology in the industry. However, the Middle East’s construction sector must focus on adopting its effectiveness.

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Construction Week - Issue 747
Aug 03, 2019