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Wearable implementation requires careful management

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HOUSTON — Wearable technology is being introduced to construction sites that could prevent injuries, speed treatment of injured workers and provide detailed information on workplace incidents, but contractors need to carefully manage its implementation, a panel of experts said.

The wearables provide contractors with significant information and data, but they need to ensure that the devices complement their existing safety efforts, they said.

Gilbane Building Co. is using wearables on 10 projects and has plans to introduce the technology to five more projects, said Donald Naber, senior vice president and director of risk management at the Providence, Rhode Island-based contractor.

Before introducing new technology, Gilbane examines how it will improve its operations overall, he said during a session at the International Risk Management Institute Inc.’s Construction Risk Management conference in Houston on Monday.

“What we are interested in is trying to find a way to establish efficiencies, bring technology to the table that from a cost model standpoint will be effective for us, and at the same time operations can create a more lean environment for the things that they are trying to do, and most importantly help create the safest project site that we can provide for workers,” Mr. Naber said.

Most recently, it partnered with Travelers Cos. Inc. and Triax Technologies Inc. to introduce and analyze over 20 months the outcomes of the technology it’s using on the sites, Triax’s Spot-r devices, to a 60,000 square foot, six-floor construction site in New York.

Among other things, the technology, which workers wear on their belts, detects worker falls, worker location, detects whether equipment is being used by workers certified to use the equipment and can be used to trigger evacuation alarms.

To work effectively, the technology needs to be implemented within the existing safety culture and safety processes on sites, said Michael Fraser, vice president of business development at Triax.

In addition, “all stakeholders — technology providers, contractors, as well as insurers — must be working together as partners in the project,” he said.

The technology can benefit contractors and workers, but the risks of implementing the technology need to be assessed before it is introduced, said Casey Banks, senior construction risk control consultant at Travelers in Providence.

One of the biggest considerations is the “big brother” effect, where workers are concerned their movements are being tracked. “You could impact employee morale, you could even impact productivity,” he said. “You have to be transparent, you have to roll it out in the right manner, you have to provide the right training.”

Employers must explain to workers that they are not being tracked when they leave the job site and the purpose of the technology is to improve safety, Mr. Banks said.

In addition, the devices provide a lot of data that must be secured from data breaches, he said. There are legal implications to consider, too. For example, proximity sensors may track near misses that could be used against a company if it ignored the near misses and a worker is injured.