Earlier this month, John Harrison, sales and marketing director at wireless solutions firm Ramtech, and Claire Mason, general manager at Waterguard spoke to Building Services & Environmental Engineer to take a closer look at safety on construction sites and changes that need to be made to mitigate risks.

In case you missed the original article, you can catch up below.

Construction sites are dangerous places to work, with plenty of tools and machinery needing constant supervision and the ever-present prospect of life-threatening consequences to small mistakes. To manage these risks, the industry must move away from detecting and responding to emergencies and instead, look to connected technologies to provide a pre-emptive, proactive approach.

It’s well-documented that construction sites are dangerous places to work; the extreme likelihood of fire damage, water leak, theft, medical emergencies, and other disasters occurring is widely recognised by both builders and insurance companies.

Crises and hazards can be highly devastating, putting workers at risk and threatening the lives and property of the public in surrounding areas – not to mention how destructive they can be in terms of damage to materials and delays to the construction programme.

A connected approach to improve site safety

Fortunately, right now, our world is more connected than ever before. The internet has become such a vital component of the world’s infrastructure that it is unlikely many of us get through our day without linking up to the web at one point or another.

Although a construction site full of primitive tools and raw materials may seem like an unlikely place to find the latest technological innovations, advances in technology are helping to bring 24/7 safety to projects. Smart equipment, integrated with an IoT software platform, creates a safer community where workers are connected with their environment, safety managers, and wider team.

And, the pandemic has accelerated the sector’s adoption of technology, simply due to the number of individuals on sites. To achieve social distancing, the number of personnel permitted was reduced, and technology has filled some of the gaps in terms of monitoring safety systems and generating data remotely.

Yet, even after the pandemic has ended, unsecured construction sites will remain vulnerable to numerous threats, such as arson, vandalism, theft, and trespassing accidents to name a few. For example, the combination of waste and combustible material, wooden framing, and a lack of fire protection assets can turn one small ember into a full-scale blaze.

A fire can wreak havoc on the lives of people it affects and overcoming the huge losses can be a challenge. Early detection of the threat of a fire can make a massive difference to the outcome – and this is happening right now with devices that monitor smoke or heat.

However, in the very near future, the emerging technology and the requirement from the industry is a lot less to do with detecting and responding to fires – it is more about monitoring sites, identifying risks and preventing emergencies in the first place. The entire sector is looking to technology to provide pre-emptive, proactive management of risks; responding to them once they have occurred is already too late.

Wireless fire alarm systems and emergency alert systems have advanced greatly over the past few decades and contribute to solving these problems. Currently, innovative wireless technology is being used to alert all relevant personnel to emergencies as soon as they occur, enabling the situation to be stopped in its tracks before it becomes a full-blown disaster.

Water and fire: a match made in heaven?

The same can be said for water too. While much emphasis has previously been placed on the threat of fire, water damage during the construction phase can be equally as devastating. Why then, does leak monitoring often play second-fiddle to fire and intruder alarms?

While these devices are installed without a second thought, a leak detection system is often the first thing to be cut from project budgets, in spite of the massive knock-on effect – in terms of time and costs – when things go wrong.

Having seen the impact unexpected – and often uncontrolled – egress can have on the best laid plans, the industry is slowly starting to wake up to the importance of protecting sites from the damage caused by burst pipes and leaks.

Leak detection solutions can effectively monitor and track the movement of water through any pipeline. And, if at any point an abnormal flow is spotted, the system will immediately cut off supply to the building by closing a valve within the device.

Although such installations aren’t compulsory (yet), the best-practice guidance issued by Construction Insurance Risk Engineers Group (CIREG), advises UK developers to consider investing in a leak detection system if they operate within the specialist field of Contractors All Risks (CAR) insurance.

Of course, when not stipulated as a requirement of cover, the prohibiting factor to the installation of such devices is often the cost. But, for an average investment of £3,000 at the start of the project, developers could save thousands of pounds on the price of their premiums – with some underwriters willing to foot the bill for the fitting and operation of the system.

There’s an added bonus too. As well as mitigating risk in terms of building protection, the installation of a leak detection system also ticks a vital sustainability ‘box’ – counting towards BREEAM sustainability points and allowing developers to market properties as ‘sustainable builds’.

Looking ahead

While contractors that have previously fallen foul to the devastation a fire or water leak can cause will often include solutions as standard, there is work to be done in terms of educating the industry as a whole as to the benefits of such precautions – before it’s too late.

Firms that are embracing and adopting connected technologies are already reaping the rewards – being provided with peace of mind that sites have an additional level of health and safety protection, putting construction workers’ minds at ease and their lives in safe hands.

And as we look towards the future of construction site safety, the real role and power of technology must be outcome-driven. Simply seeking to improve the way things are currently done while achieving the same outcomes is not enough – the results really need to change. Luckily, the technology needed to do this is already out there; it needs to be adopted by sites that want to take a pre-emptive approach.