Construction has a massive safety problem — and it's costing firms untold losses in injuries, workers' compensation and lost productivity.
In fact, the cost of all construction injuries in the United States in 2019 was $171 billion according to the National Safety Council. Liberty Mutual reports that workers' compensation claims for construction injuries in the country amounts to over $58 billion annually.
A key solution to all these costly safety issues is an integrated safety program that uses digital technology to ensure that real-time safety data is accessible at all times.
"One safety incident can completely ruin a job or ruin a company," said Matt Monihan, CEO of ResponseVault, a data engineering firm that specializes in the construction industry. "Digitization ensures that the safety process and protocols actually get followed."
But how do you make the shift? Here are eight fundamental questions construction firms need to answer first:
1. Why is an integrated digital safety program so vital? Lacking digital integration means construction firms are adding to injury costs with inefficient and unreliable manual paper systems that leave supervisors drowning in paperwork.
Up to 100 paper forms often are required per project. Multiply that across 20 projects and suddenly firms are shuffling 2,000 paper forms daily, said David Maser, director of construction innovation for IMC Construction, a major commercial construction firm in the Mid Atlantic market.
But Maser noted that all that paper ended up siloing important safety data that could be used to increase efficiency — and reduce injuries.
"When data gets siloed, it can't be connected to the entire team and organization. So, you may not even realize you have a problem," he said. "A lack of actionable data can lead to incidents and injuries."
2. How does going digital help ensure workers fill out job site safety reviews (JSAs, JHAs, THAs, etc.)? Top systems allow workers to use mobile devices, computers or paper that can be scanned in later.
Maser's digital system also allows crews and supers to automate safety forms that have already been reviewed and approved. "It really allows them to get started on the job faster. And that's huge," Maser said.
3. What features can nudge workers to fill out reports? Maser said his system could send texts, automated emails and a variety of other prompts to workers about necessary safety reports, permits and licensing.
Maser used crane work as an example. The system can automatically request necessary permits, licenses and forms and set up meetings for review and approval in advance.
"It really allows you to start to say, 'If you're doing a certain task, then you need to do this, this and that before the final results happen," Maser said.
4. How should supervisors be notified? Maser said transparency and timing were key in this regard, and systems should be set up for immediate notifications.
"Holistically, we want to understand both what's going well and where we can improve on our projects. The integrated-platform approach can help us identify different situations and allow us to strategize our approach," he said.
He added that digital systems allowed supervisors to drill down to individual contractors and subcontractors to see if issues are arising with specific trades or partners.
5. Can safety reviews be customized? Maser said customizing the review process was key to ensuring safety protocols are properly followed because different trades use different methods.
Maser's system allows for near endless customization and can accommodate just about any workflow. Leading systems allow users to customize any field in the report.
"It may take 10 hours to set up the form in the right way. But it's going to take the team 10 hours a week to do it on paper," he said.
6. How does the data get saved and uploaded? Maser said all safety data — from THAs, JHAs, licenses, permits and the like — should be automatically uploaded to a central server that can be easily accessed and referenced by those up and down the chain.
With that data, firms can then decide which KPIs are most important to see in a dashboard or regular reporting. "KPIs will be collected and documented in a data warehouse, and then you can leverage the power of business intelligence to analyze and review them," he said.
7. How does an integrated safety program help if someone gets hurt? With a digital safety program, all the essential information is archived and accessible. "With that data, firms can quickly break down what actually occurred leading up to the incident," Maser said.
Maser noted that integrated safety programs also mitigated liability. "Having the documentation in one place and having it in an integrated program is huge to protecting our risk on any project."
8. How much can an integrated system save? Before moving to the digital system, Maser said it typically took someone 20 hours a week to collect, compile and review the paperwork. Working in an integrated system, a single project could save close to $50,000 per year. If that savings gets applied across 20 projects annually, the savings amount to $1 million per year.
"Not only are you scaling the efficiencies of the data collection, but now you have data to drive decisions that can further mitigate project risks, hazards, or injuries before they happen," he said. "That is an endless value."