Technology can be defined as the application of scientific knowledge to benefit or improve human life. Health and safety can be defined as the application of
systems concerned with improving the safety and wellbeing of human life. These definitions are remarkably similar, and as such there should be an easy marriage between the two.
Technology is basically a tool, which can be utilised to make our lives better. We do not need to know or understand the science behind the tool. Not many builders would tell you how Newton’s second law of motion and conservation of momentum apply to using a hammer. We all just know that it is a lot easier than banging in a nail with just your hand.
When I think of technology I think back to the scene in the movie ‘2001: A space odyssey’, where the first use of a tool by some of our ancestors was an animal bone as a weapon. The bone is thrown spinning in the air, and we transition in a few seconds through millions of years of evolution to arrive at the latest technology, an orbiting space station.
The lessons from this are many. Technology is agnostic, it can be used for both good and bad. A uranium atom does not care if it is used for radiation therapy to treat a cancer patient or in a bomb. Like any tool, you need to be trained in how to use it, and it needs to be used properly to get the most benefit. Just try banging in a nail with a saw. It can be done, but not very effectively.
What technology is out there to improve health and safety? Most of us by now will be more than aware of the app-based systems which make reporting and compliance must easier. We can track who is on our sites, record levels of training and competence in the cloud, and allow reporting of events and hazards in real time. This makes these processes more efficient and allows better communication between stakeholders. But does it make us safer?
Administrative controls sit near the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of bang for your buck. Speeding these processes up may not make us safer, but certainly the ability to collaborate with our teams and communicate information about hazard and risks will have tangible results. The real benefit of the app-based systems is in their ability to influence the culture of the organisation, and to create a platform of open and honest communication. Many organisations turned to whatsapp type of chat groups to encourage communication and wellbeing during the lockdowns, and the benefits of these cannot be overstated.
A drone is a good example of an engineered solution to health and safety problems. A drone can be flown into dangerous building and hard to reach places to inspect and assess the work to be done. This eliminates the need to put a human at risk. The Cathedral project has made good use of drones to capture images which can be then used to plan safe work practices for the reconstruction.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) are the next steps up the technology ladder. Virtual reality enables us to visualise the risks and hazards before any work is started, and plan safe work accordingly. Augmented reality enables us to interact with the built environment and see hidden dangers. How many service strikes could be avoided if we could ‘see’ below the road surface? AR also allows us to train individuals in specific tasks and environments without having to expose them to the actual risks.
Once again, the twin concepts of communication and collaboration feature as part of the use of these technologies.
Design sits at the top of the hierarchy in terms of greatest benefit for less cost and effort. Here is where the use of BIM models enables all stakeholders from the client, designer, contractor, worker, and user to collaborate in the design stage of a construction project to eliminate and mitigate risks. The model can then store information about these risks, and this can be communicated to workers via the model in a visual form.
To learn about some of these technologies, come along to the ‘Technology and Health and Safety’ event being run by the Charter. BIM models, AR, VR and the BIMSafe NZ project will all be featured, as well as a presentation and Q+A with Kevin Lampen-Smith, WorkSafe.
These technologies are here now, and they are like a steamroller. You can either be part of the steam roller, or part of the road…..
Paul Duggan, General Manager