Advancing safety with mobile technology

Advancing safety with mobile technology

Mobile technology plays a vital role in the management of assets and employees in most businesses today, whether it’s a colleague sending updates to a manager about their whereabouts, or the ability to access company servers and information remotely. For businesses with a workforce based on multiple sites, such as construction firms, quantity surveyors, engineers and project managers, there is even more to gain – mobile solutions can not only help drive efficiencies and achieve long-term productivity gains, but can also provide additional protection for workers.  The latest rugged devices can withstand the elements that field workers are subject to, and offer additional call functionality in the event of emergencies.

A mobile duty of care

According to data from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), each year in the construction sector, around three percent of workers sustain a work-related injury, with an estimated 66,000 self-reported injuries. Worryingly in 2015/16, there were 43 fatal injuries to construction industry workers, a rate of 1.94 per 100,000. The health and safety of lone workers is a major concern for construction firms. Could the implementation of new mobile technology help prevent further fatal injuries? Perhaps not, but it will help to give managers the peace of mind that they have taken steps to avoid or control risks where necessary.

advancing mobile usage in the construction sector

While prevention is the ultimate goal, there must also be tools in place to provide rapid help when accidents occur. This means providing a means of consistent, reliable communication with management, team members and emergency services.  This equipment should include specialised mobile devices featuring a pre-installed Lone Worker Protection App, which can be easily accessed at the touch of a button. This offers an audible and text alarm, sending a worker’s GPS location and alert message to their manager or colleague. For lone workers in more hazardous working conditions, an app like this will allow an accelerometer to be set, triggering an alarm if the user suffers a fall. With these features, businesses can be sure their workers will receive emergency care quickly when needed.

Constant connectivity

Ensuring worker safety means choosing a mobile solution which offers both the connectivity of a high-end smartphone, and the additional functionality of a specialised device. For example, dual SIM card functionality allows for multiple network connections, reducing the potential for workers experiencing mobile black spots. These communication precautions can also prove invaluable when it comes to boosting business efficiency. For example, a ‘push to talk’ button will allow a manager to instantly communicate one-to-one or one-to-many, providing cohesion among workers based in separate locations.

Tough on the outside

Anyone with a smartphone will know how fragile these devices can be – dropping a device from even hand-height can easily result in a cracked screen. Frustrating for the everyday phone owner; a potential health and safety hazaAdvancing safety with mobile technologyrd if you’re a lone worker on a remote site. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of mobile devices on the market which are both powerful and rugged enough to withstand harsh environments. Only a fraction of mobile devices offer an IP68 rating (meaning the handset is protected against complete dust ingress and can withstand continuous immersion in water beyond 1m), or robust build quality that conform to MIL-STD 810G. However, most of these devices do not offer the additional functionality of a specialised handset – one which is rugged, powerful and supports functions like Lone Worker Protection and dual SIM – which would allow managers and business owners to comply with regulations, and could help reduce those HSE figures in the years to come.

Smart competition

Construction remains a high-risk industry, and accidents are not uncommon. According to HSE’s figures, the combination of work-related illness and workplace injuries in the sector leads to 2.2 million working days lost annually. This will significantly impact a company’s bottom line, and indicates that not enough is being done to ensure worker safety.

Improvements in mobile technology mean that devices are now available which incorporate the functionality of a high-end smartphone with specialised features and a ruggedised exterior. Mobile technology of course plays a central role in improving business efficiency in other areas too, with smartphones providing features like real-time information and asset sharing, as well as other workforce management tools. In order to maximise the benefits offered by mobile, while simultaneously verifying the safety of a workforce, the construction industry needs to adopt specialised rugged mobile devices which are tough on the outside, and smart on the inside.

Ultimately, the safety of a workforce should be a top priority for any manager today, regardless of the industry. In high risk sectors, this is more important still. A manager is liable for their workforce’s safety, and the financial and moral implications of not complying regulations are simply too high.

Source: Stephen Westley, Dewalt – Advancing safety with mobile technology – SHP Online

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construction health and safety

Construction in focus

Two years ago the UK Government published a report on worker well-being in the construction sector, arguing how improvements in this area were not only a target in themselves but also conducive to economic growth. This win/win focus on promoting greater levels of health and safety within the sector, is supported by regulations which govern some of the key operational tasks carried out by construction workers.

These include laws around working at height, which are structured under the basis of avoid, prevent, arrest, requiring employers and self-employed contractors to assess the risks and then organise and plan the work so it is carried out safely.

Work at height is the biggest single cause of serious injury within the construction industry, with over 60 per cent of deaths resulting from falls on a site.

The starting point for planning is for employers to look at where they can avoid working at height. Where this is not possible, they must otherwise prevent or arrest a fall and the potential for serious injury, instructing and training their workforce in the precautions needed.

Method statements are widely used in the construction industry as part of this process. These are a useful way of recording the hazards involved in specific work at height tasks and communicating the risk and precautions required to all those involved in the work. The statement need be no longer than necessary to achieve these objectives effectively. It should also be clear and illustrated with simple sketches, where necessary, avoiding ambiguities or generalisations which could lead to confusion. Statements are for the benefit of those carrying out the work and their immediate supervisors and should not be overcomplicated. Equipment needed for safe working should be clearly identified and available before work starts with clear guidance on what should be done if the work method needs to be changed.

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As well as avoiding work at height operations where it practicable to do so, there are a number of additional precautions employers can put in place. Measures should be taken to prevent a worker from falling a distance which is liable to cause personal injury. This could include erecting a scaffold platform with double guard-rail and toe boards, for example. Installing equipment like safety nets to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall is also vital where work at height cannot be avoided or the fall prevented.

Manual handling is another key area covered by construction law governing the movement of items through lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling. While the weight of the item is an important issue, employers must also recognise the many other factors, including the number of times an items needs to be picked up or carried or the distance it is carried, as these can enhance the risk of musculoskeletal disorder injuries (MSDs).

MSDs are common construction-related injuries which include damage or disorder of the joints and other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back. Statistics from the Labour Force Survey indicate that MSDs, including those caused by manual handling, account for more than a third of all reported work-related illnesses.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require employers to manage these risks on behalf of their employees. This includes avoiding hazardous manual handling operations, moving loads through automated or mechanised processes wherever possible. If it can’t be avoided, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment from hazardous manual handling operations is required which sets out ways of reducing the potential of injury.

It is also important for employers to adopt an ergonomic approach to manual handling across their operations, taking into account the nature of the task, size of the load, the working environment and where and when direct worker participation is necessary.

The HSE has developed a number of supportive resources, including the MAC and the V-MAC tools which help employers analyse lifting, carrying and team handling. The ART tool gives advice and guidance on managing repetitive upper limb tasks, while the RAPP tool covers pushing and pulling requirements on a construction site. Often multiple tools will be required to complete a task. More information on these can be found at the HSE website.

These resources are there to support the wider legislative agenda of further protecting the people who work in the UK construction sector. It’s important for employers to be aware of these rules and use the tools that are available to promote a better working environment.

Source: SHP – Jerry Hill Safety, Head of Consultancy Support for NatWest Mentor, gives an overview of  some of the key topics in health and safety in construction.

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