The construction industry is traditionally seen as inefficient, not just in Singapore, but around the world. It is also an industry that involves safety risks—in recent years, more than one third of all workplace fatalities across the country were attributed to the construction sector.
We can start by being smarter about safety. Ensuring safety with technology does not necessarily mean having to use the latest and greatest solutions. While we have made good progress transforming productivity with the use of technology, more needs to be done, and can be done, to ensure the safety of all workers.
Being smarter means we need to start planning for safety even before groundbreaking. For example, Lendlease has pioneered the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) for construction planning and operations even before work begins on-site. Apart from reducing the time design and construction traditionally take, digital 3D modelling could be used to visualise the design, evaluate construction methods, and test these against the company’s safety requirements before starting work.
Using Consumer Solutions for Construction Safety
Readily available and affordable consumer technology can be transformational to construction safety. For example, using 360-degree cameras or GoPros to conduct virtual site walks remotely is a safer and less disruptive way to make essential checks during ongoing construction works.
Drones are another off-the-shelf solution that Lendlease is employing to provide a bird’s eye view of the entire worksite at regular intervals. Using the data, logistical movements around the site and construction progress can be better planned and tracked by comparing progressive images recorded over the course of construction.
These data sets, regularly combined with BIM, enable us to continually improve planning, supervision and coordination. By creating a more accurate picture of the site from a mixture of information from drones and on-ground resources from the cameras, we are able to make better decisions, faster and with confidence.
Being smarter means we need to start planning for safety even before groundbreaking.
Even better use of data could be made with the information collected via photogrammetry. Here, drone images are stitched together to create a 3D mesh model of the construction in progress. This could be compared in an overlay with the planned 3D design model, providing greater confidence and clarity to the programme, and reducing safety risks while keeping the project on time.
At Lendlease’s Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ) in Singapore, real-time location service smart monitoring was trialled for a particularly high-risk area where an open canal ran through the worksite. This area involved work on the canal that acted as a storm water outlet. Speed is of the essence as water levels often rise quickly and without warning when storms occur further upstream or during the monsoon season.
Instead of relying solely on banksmen to keep an eye out for safety, tracking the location of workers using GPS and Bluetooth sensors, in addition to numerous closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and a centralised monitoring centre, allowed us to safeguard workers in high-risk areas. A public address system to communicate with workers across the site also ensured immediate communication of evacuation messages with simple technology, rather than depending on human relayers in the event of impending storms.
Using Tech at a Micro Scale
Construction will still be a human-intensive industry in the near term and technology should also be used at a micro scale to better safeguard each and every worker. Wearables and Real-Time Location Services are solutions that can be used to better ensure safety.
Apart from being able to monitor a wearer’s location in real-time, virtual boundaries can be raised to create exclusion zones around high-risk areas that require close supervision, like working near a water body, steep drops or bordering a road with high vehicular traffic. An automatic alert can sound out if a worker accidentally crosses a boundary to alert them directly, and a concurrent message sent to safety supervisors to investigate if required.
It is crucial to inculcate a mindset shift where tech is seen as an enabler and a supporter, instead of a displacer.
Advances in facial recognition technology means two-factor authentication (2FA) can be employed in biometric access systems to better safeguard the safety of workers even before they step foot onto the worksite. A facial recognition-based gantry access system will automatically prevent workers who have worked the maximum number of hours allowed each day under local regulations from entering the site. This is an essential use of technology for fatigue and safety management.
Especially for large worksites with separate project areas, this approach allows for real-time tracking of worker movements from site to site, and useful information like the ratio of supervisors to workers at each plot at any given point in time. The information collected can then be used for planning and assessing how issues could be further improved, like the overcrowding of workers in a busy worksite as well.
The Human Factor in Safety
However, we have to keep in mind that the full effectiveness of technology is still limited by the human factor. Workers can contravene safety protocols and processes, and switch off a wearable or ignore warning messages issued by the device. While a big picture overview on safety can be maintained automatically and remotely, these individual acts threaten the integrity of the overall situation and safety of the site.
It is crucial to inculcate a mindset shift where tech is seen as an enabler and a supporter, instead of a displacer. In tandem with the introduction of technology, regular safety courses educating workers on the role and how to use these tools are essential to the sustainability of using tech for construction safety. On some of Lendlease’s projects, a training academy has been set up to ensure that upon induction of new workers, they are brought up to speed on what is available on-site to safeguard their lives and promote cooperation.
The safety of workers is paramount, and people should always come before projects. The success of any construction project at Lendlease is ultimately measured by the health and well-being of each and every worker and employee.
Head of Digital Engineering, Asia, Lendlease
Richard Kuppusamy leads digital transformation, technology implementation and innovation in his current role in Lendlease. He is a chartered British Architect with more than 18 years of experience in the AEC industry, with projects across Europe to Asia. As an early adopter of BIM with over 10 years of experience in BIM and Digital Delivery implementation, Kuppusamy brings unique insights to create additional value in successful project delivery. In his commitment to open collaboration to advance the industries’ adoption of BIM/VDC, he is a committee member of the Digital Built Environment Institute, a global non-profit institution focused on education in technological innovations for the AEC industry.