July 1, 2019

What Do AI and Automation Mean for Accident Prevention?

accident prevention

Every contractor cares about accident prevention. When accidents occur, workers might suffer debilitating or even fatal injuries. Accidents can lead to delayed projects and higher costs, not to mention the possibility of expensive litigation and steep fines.

Everyone can agree that accidents are to be avoided. We can also agree that preventing accidents is easier said than done.

During National Safety Month, we’re talking about ways to keep jobsites as safe as possible. One way to take your safety program to the next level? Incorporate technology. Traditionally, accident prevention isn’t prevention at all: management evaluates accident and injury rates, then implements tactics to reduce those rates. There’s no way to tell if the changes had any impact until time has elapsed, and more accidents have occurred (or not).

If you’re using tech-enabled safety methods, accurate site data is gathered in real-time and software uses that information to detect accident risks before an incident occurs. Using artificial intelligence and automated processes is a decisive step toward the best accident prevention plan possible.

Taking a preventative safety approach

In 2017, one in five worker deaths were in the construction industry. That means 971 construction workers were killed on the job. It’s a sobering statistic that drives home the importance of prioritizing safety. Prioritizing safety means taking preventative steps and protective measures to keep your employees and jobsites accident-free.

A proactive safety plan requires more work, but it’s the key to preventing injuries and fatalities. Conversely, a reactive approach to safety means you deal with safety issues as they arise. It may seem easier to fix things when they break down and address safety concerns after an accident happens, but this leaves your team unprepared and ill-equipped to handle accidents.

Some construction professionals may view a preventative safety strategy as difficult to execute. Fortunately, the automation and AI-driven technology that’s available today can make it much easier for construction teams to work safely and actively prevent accidents.

Robotics help employees work safer

On most jobsites, there are a few repetitive, labor-intensive tasks that take longer than they should. Though OSHA eschews human error as an explanation for a majority of accidents, humans are susceptible to mistakes a construction robot might not make. That’s because construction workers are people, and people get tired, especially when they’re performing repetitive work.

Fatigue and distraction can cause humans to make mistakes, and many times, mistakes lead to accidents. This is where robotics and automation step in to make work safer and easier.

AI technology and robots don’t get tired, nor do they get distracted, slow their pace or get bored. As a result, their efficiency keeps projects moving. This doesn’t remove humans from the forefront of work, though. Instead, humans continue to play a role in supervising, programming and repairing robots that are performing the repetitive or dangerous tasks.

In addition to making fewer mistakes, a robot works more quickly at a consistent pace compared to its human counterpart. For example, a human wearing an exoskeleton to assist with lifting heavy objects can work much more quickly, since the exoskeleton relieves much of the strain on the worker’s body. Less strain on the human body also means fewer injuries, and that allows employees to have longer, healthier careers in construction.

AI sheds light on how accidents occur

Robotics assist construction teams in working safer in more ways than one. However, they don’t negate the risk of accidents entirely. In order to prevent accidents from happening, you have to be able to spot the signs of an accident about to occur. When there’s work to be done, or if your team is short staffed, this can be difficult to accomplish.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technology help humans predict the future — almost. AI and machine learning technology collect data that helps employees and teams predict impending accidents. Software currently in development by Boston-based construction company Suffolk would observe jobsites and alert to dangerous behaviors it picks up, like a worker standing too close to a machine.

Eventually, after prolonged periods of observation, an artificially intelligent program could identify unique or seemingly minute details that point to potential accidents, like a tilting machine or a too-heavy load.

Telematics solutions like EquipmentShare’s Track can also identify when a machine isn’t performing properly by monitoring engine health (and other vitals) to help operators avoid accidents caused by machine failure. When a machine isn’t running at optimal performance, the Track user is alerted, and the machine is repaired or serviced before a breakdown happens.

Artificial intelligence programs facilitate safety because they analyze data at a rate that’s impossible for humans to achieve. People observing jobsite safety cameras are nowhere near as reliable or as thorough as algorithms that comb through footage in real time and alert you as possible dangers are detected.

Reduce risk and gain benefits

Using automation and artificial intelligence decreases many of the typical risks associated with construction work. Employees are less likely to be injured, whether in an accident or over time following repetitive manual labor. This is beneficial for both employees and managers: Your employees have longer careers and healthier retirements without insurance claims or on-site work injuries.

An additional benefit of using cutting-edge jobsite technology is the boost it gives to your company’s reputation. Using new, tech-empowered safety solutions points to your company as an innovator that cares about its people. It’s a factor that can attract prospective employees and job bids alike.

Though it might seem that using AI technology to prevent accidents and protect workers will lead to a human-free jobsite, it’s doubtful that that will ever be the case. Robots will still need to be supervised, and human workers will find that they still need to “teach” robots, in some cases, to properly complete a task.

Additionally, automated solutions will always need to be updated and repaired. The data collected by artificial intelligence tools will always need to be interpreted so it can inform decision-making. Humans will never be excluded from the equation, and in fact, technology opens up new career possibilities in the industry.

As construction work evolves and technology advances, your team has the opportunity to take advantage of tools that can keep your jobsite safer than ever. Automation technology and AI offer safety and accident prevention benefits that haven’t been accessible until now. By adopting newer processes and technology solutions at your jobsites, you can contribute to turning around construction’s bad safety reputation and confidently protect your team.

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