How technology transformations can elevate safety in construction sites

Safety on job sites is the first thing that must be ensured on any kind of construction project, but never more so than when heavy machinery and equipment are being used alongside workers on the ground. Due to this need, safety managers have at their disposal increasing numbers of new tools to enhance their safety plans and help better protect employees.

Technology elevates safety

Author: Brad Mullis

Advancements in sensors, radars, cameras and autonomous technologies are improving risk detection capabilities, and therefore the overall safety of the job site. However, to develop a successful safety plan, managers must be able to identify where hazards are likely to occur and how to overcome them. This data can be challenging to obtain without the correct digital infrastructure. Accidents and near-misses provide key insights for safety planners to put in place effective risk management strategies, but they are rarely reported by workers, and the heavy machinery itself can only be made more accident-proof if the most likely causes of accidents are identified.

This is where technology transformations can elevate existing safety plans. Systems that can alert workers to potential dangers, improve the ability of the heavy machinery operators to sense their surroundings and collect this data for later analysis have proved highly effective in improving safety on job sites. Incorporating this into developing safety plans can be invaluable in preventing fatalities, serious injuries and near misses. 

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Making technology part of the uniform  

Making technology part of the uniform

Preventing accidents and near-miss incidents between heavy equipment and workers is a focus of Hexagon’s Modular Safety Awareness Solutions. The primary aim is always to reduce on-site incidents that not only have, first and foremost, a huge personal cost, but also a financial and reputational business cost.

Accidents involving individuals and heavy equipment are the biggest threat to workers and can have devastating results despite the best efforts of manufacturers and safety managers. Equipment of this scale will always have a blind spot, and the best way to avoid this danger is to prevent people from entering these blind spots in the first place. 

To combat the blind-spot risk that could incur these accidents, Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, created the Leica iCON PA10, a real-time awareness solution that combines a sensor tag worn by workers on the ground which communicates with receivers installed in all of the machines and vehicles on the construction site. This dual system provides machine-to-people awareness with direct notifications to the heavy machinery operators through visual and audio alerts to notify them of potential risks within a configurable radius of up to 50 meters.

On the ground level, the wearable tags also have a panic button that can be pushed if the wearer is in distress, alerting all machines in range that something is wrong and work as usual must stop. The system can also be configured to indicate no-go zones on the job site to alert operators that their machine is nearing an area they should avoid, for example, because it is guaranteed that a lot of people will be in that space throughout the construction project. As an additional preventative measure, if there are physical obstacles on site, such as potholes or tree trunks, these can be programmed into the system, making sure personnel are alerted of their presence and can avoid them. 

Harnessing the data for future safety

As well as minimising immediate risk, technology transformations in construction can also help managers improve safety in the long term by collecting the data generated by the wearable tags and machine-mounted equipment. This can provide insights into the incidents that go unreported, such as near misses, thus giving planners further opportunities to elevate their safety plan and improve their site’s safety culture.



With a logging system that can record up to 70 hours of movement, capturing position, speed, headings and alarms, this data can provide a valuable snapshot into work behaviours as well as show where the largest concentration of alarms are occurring on a site, prompting procedural changes, all of which can help companies evaluate and improve safety procedures.

The benefits of this data collection are not only physical but also psychological. The knowledge that this information is being gathered can change staff behaviours for the better, for example increasing the likelihood that near-miss incidents are reported as ground workers can be reassured that their reports will be backed up by the data. The next step will be incorporating the data into machine control systems and creating web-based interfaces that allow better user interaction with the data generated and collected, such as producing heat maps from incident reports to further reduce the gap between data collected and data leveraged.


Combining technology solutions for optimised results

Typically, safety systems are either sensor- or camera-based. However, more and more technology companies are combining systems and seeing significant benefits.
Cameras are commonly used on heavy-duty equipment as they offer increased visibility of a machine’s surroundings. However, they also require operators to watch the footage and the quality of their recordings is susceptible to lighting and weather conditions. On the other hand, sensor-based systems can automatically monitor and alert personnel without the need for physical involvement and can function in any lighting conditions. So, by combining technologies, detection capabilities can be greatly enhanced, offering for example an image of machine surroundings as well as accurate calculations of distance and speed of nearby objects. This is particularly useful in more dangerous situations such as deep excavations where visibility is significantly lowered. A sensor can be mounted to an excavator so that when the machine is digging, any persons in the excavation site are visible to the operator.



By partnering with other safety solutions experts, collaboration between different technologies can take place for enhanced safety. For example, combining an alert system with dual height sensor limitation, slew restriction systems, and height and rated capacity indication (RCI) technologies can help prevent an excavator from lifting more than is allowed according to health and safety requirements or local legislation.

This dual integration adds an additional layer of safety on top of the alert system already provided. When a tagged ground worker or object is within a pre-configured alert zone, the appropriate personnel are alerted and the slew restriction systems can proportionately and autonomously slow down and safely stop the machine in question, reducing further risk of an accident. This combination of technology means that not only are employees more protected, but the heavy machinery itself is more ‘aware’ of its surroundings and better equipped to overcome the major safety challenges on a construction site. With autonomous technology such as this, it is essential that the machinery is as aware as possible of its surroundings to be able to work efficiently and safely. 


Looking to the future of safety

With the rate of technological advancement increasing over the past decade, existing solutions to elevate job site safety will no doubt improve and new solutions will continue to emerge. Companies are already working on incorporating augmented reality (AR) into their safety plans in a way that allows operators to see through machines to avoid collisions or running over any objects. Artificial intelligence (AI) will also play a significant part in advancing autonomous technology solutions, for example enabling autonomous machine driving powered by more reliable, human-equivalent reactions.

The possibilities presented by technology transformations in elevating safety are vast. From introducing wearable tags, to combining technology solutions, and to the near-future potential of AR and AI, and analysing the data generated by these technologies, technology will elevate safety by improving awareness and reactions of the individual, the machinery, and the software. Safety is the first priority for any construction project, and understanding the cause of hazards is key to adopting the right solutions and reducing risk.

The use of technology to both protect workers immediately and capture valuable data to improve risk management planning for the future is therefore crucial for any organisation to elevate their safety plan.


Brad Mullis 

Brad Mullis is Product Manager at Hexagon’s Machine Control division. In this role, he is responsible for driving the product development of Leica Geosystems’ Safety Awareness portfolio, bringing technology to the heavy construction industry that plays an active role in improving productivity and reducing risk and incidents. Mullis joined Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, in 2018 as a Product Specialist and progressed to Product Management in 2020. In previous roles as Contracts Manager and Site Agent for well-respected South African construction firms specializing in urban civils, roading, bulk earthworks & services respectively. Mullis was trained and mentored in Civil Engineering & Construction Management as an apprentice with Elco Asphalters in conjunction with Durban University of Technology in South Africa.

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