Back in the bad old days, the number of accidents on a construction site could be estimated by the number of stories to be built. Construction technology and safety have improved drastically since that time, but accidents still happen. Naturally, the industry is always looking for new ways to increase safety on the job. While some accidents may always be unpredictable coincidence, many can be prevented by closely monitoring a worksite in a way that can detect the signs of an imminent dangerous mistake. Recent developments in monitoring technology are making it easier to do things like monitor machinery and send drones to survey risky areas, but how do you know when a worker is overheating or suddenly becomes ill in the middle of a shift? The home fitness industry may already have the answer in the form of wearables that track everything from your heartbeat to your acceleration.

Detecting Fatigue and Illness

The biometric patterns of the body have a natural rhythm based on your health and the kind of activity you’re doing. When sleeping, for instance, your heart rate and breathing both slow down and cardio exercise can be recognized by a faster heart rate. Exertion in the heat can also cause your heart rate to rise, sometimes dangerously so and in this state, workers are more prone to errors. In the other direction, workers who are low on sleep or coming down with an illness may be less aware, alert, and able to avoid accidents. Being able to detect these signs before an accident occurs scan save lives and prevent costly mistakes.

Using a Fitness Tracker

All of this information is readily available with cloud-connected sensors as personal fitness training devices. Wristbands like the popular FitBit series can tell a person’s pulse, GPS location, activity level, and even how well they have slept. With this kind of information at the hands of site managers or even transmitted back to a home-office, workers who are feeling unwell can be pulled off for a checkup or assigned to light-duty until their biometric signs indicate that they are feeling better and will be able to focus properly on more intensive tasks. However, with all that commercial fitness trackers have a lot to offer the construction community, the industry has never been shy about adopting whatever technology is useful and innovating it for the express purpose of improving the safety of work sites.

The First Generation

While the full potential of this technology has not yet been grasped, the first generation of construction specific wearable tech is a sleep to shift motion detector worn on the wrist. It was invented by the fatigue solutions manager at Caterpillar who decided to study the sleep habits of construction workers. Featuring only an accelerometer to start with, the band is sturdy, comfortable, and intended to be worn 24/7 for at month at a time. By these movements, the band can tell when you’re sleeping, on-shift, and the activities in between. Its primary goal is to track sleep patterns and predict when your effectiveness and alertness will be impaired to prevent “fatigue-related microsleep incident[s]”. Leveraging the data from these devices, worksite managers can keep sleepy workers out of dangerous tasks and better manage their shift schedules to optimize worker alertness.

When it comes to efficient and affordable ways to reduce construction accidents, we should be looking forward to future developments of motion and heart rate trackers in construction. Adoption of this technology has already begun and it’s only a matter of time before a construction-sturdy FitBit equivalent is available on the market and ready to start preventing fatigue and illness related accidents before they occur.