The world is still in the early days of the “new normal” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In order to keep workers and customers safe, the construction industry like many other businesses, has had to adapt rapidly. It is changing processes to ensure workers and jobsites remain safe. To that end, some safety-focused companies repurposed their existing technology, while others discovered innovative uses for the work they had already been doing.
The following six construction technology companies are among those leading the way in getting creative about how to use their product to help keep workers healthy and safe during COVID-19.
Workplace health and temperature screenings have become an everyday occurrence, particularly at construction sites. But tying up a supervisor to conduct hours worth of one-on-one screenings is time-consuming and inefficient. Nyfty has created software bots, “little robot helpers,” that are perfectly suited to automatically perform these kinds of screening tasks.
“When COVID first hit, we spoke to customers who asked if we could build a simple system to send messages quickly to workers on the jobsite as things changed rapidly. So we built what we called Broadcast Bot and made it free for anybody to use during COVID-19, you could send messages to your entire jobsite, and Nyfty would handle replies,” explains Nyfty Co-Founder and CEO Matt Edwards.
They then built a Health Survey Bot capable of interviewing thousands of workers at a time, irrespective of geography. By asking workers a few basic health screening questions, the bot either clears them to come to work or flags their response for any necessary follow-up, alerting a human decision-maker.
Nyfty works via SMS, eliminating the need for users to download and learn any new software. Since everybody texts, you can be sure everyone will see the message. Using phone numbers in the system also helps with contact tracing, which can be a critical investigative tool in the event of an outbreak.
“To comply with local regulations and remain open you need to be able to track and trace everyone who’s been on the jobsite including their phone number,” says Edwards
Edwards says workers respond very well to Nyfty’s AI because it talks to them much like a human would, in a friendly and proactive fashion. Bots’ conversational style guarantees better compliance than requiring workers to download an app or fill out a form would.
“We realized if we could do this in a really friendly, noncontroversial way, people will respond well to it. People will accept that and comply with the process because protecting people from COVID-19 only works if everyone accepts it and complies. Like mask-wearing, it’s no good having only half the population wearing masks. We’ve all got to do it to stay safe. On construction sites, we’ve got to get very high levels of compliance if this is going to work.”
SignOnSite is another company taking advantage of mobile phones’ ubiquity to rapidly communicate safety messages to workers and help ensure socially-distanced jobsites. The app records site attendance without workers needing to touch anything but their phones: no pen and paper, no fingerprint touchpad, no shared devices of any kind.
It also captures detailed and accurate entry and exit information so that the number of workers in the field never crosses into an unsafe threshold. Site managers can, therefore, perform certain safety compliance functions remotely, receive comprehensive reporting on any data collected, and monitor a jobsite’s health and safety compliance in real-time. Inductions can also be done touch-free, with tickets, licenses, and competencies directly uploaded using workers’ camera phones.
This careful tracking of everyone working on or visiting the site also helps a company with contract tracing in the event of anyone on-site testing positive for coronavirus. It allows them to check quickly who might have been close to the infected person and contact those most at risk.
SmartBarrel is the maker of an Internet of Things-connected time clock device for construction sites. This Virtual Superintendent is capable of connecting managers and employees and can help contractors and project managers be more efficient.
As part of the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SmartBarrel worked tirelessly to quickly release a new firmware version that transformed the device into a contactless worker check-in system. Using RFID technology, workers can clock in and out with a tap, avoiding any potential transmission passed through a shared device, or even a pen used by multiple workers.
“It is our way of providing a hygienic solution to avoid cross-contamination among shared check-in device. Helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the safety of your workforce is our priority,” the company wrote in a blog post.
SmartBarrel says much of its engineering and customer support staff are working remotely. Their installation team is still on the job and is taking every possible precaution, including wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer frequently.
Smartvid.io operates with the mission of reducing project risk with a user-friendly AI platform called Vinnie (Very Intelligent Neural Network for Insight and Evaluation). Vinnie scans jobsite images for potential safety hazards, such as a worker not wearing a hard hat, and generates custom alerts and reports for companies to take the appropriate corrective action. When COVID-19 hit, the technology was a natural fit for ensuring everyone on the jobsite is adhering to best safety practices.
The company enhanced Vinnie’s capabilities to widen its scanning criteria to include a whole new set of safety concerns. For example, it could check whether workers are wearing masks and are social distancing. Rather than using Vinnie to snitch on workers, the real purpose is to give construction companies an overhead view of any worrying trends that could jeopardize worker health.
“It’s a tool for jobs and managers to statistically understand where they are from a behavioral standpoint on all of their jobs by automatically analyzing data coming from Procore, and other sources. It’s not intended to be an auditor or a cop that yells at people if they take their face mask off to grab a drink of water, that’s not the purpose,” explains Josh Kanner, founder and CEO of Smartvid.io.
Vinnie’s “promotion” to Virtual Safety Inspector was aided by a combination of AI and human observations. Vinnie analyzes the data and can make specific observations based on the parameters you set, reporting back to specific people for specific follow-up.
“There’s lots of data being collected already, let’s use what you’ve got. We look at all the photos coming into construction management systems, site cameras, and other sources for a project and we analyze all of those,” Kanner says. “A lot of these jobsite photos when they’re taken they just sit around until there’s some kind of claim or lawsuit. This puts all of that imagery to work helping you measure your risk.”
As for construction’s role in being the face of workplace safety in the age of COVID-19, Kanner believes the industry is in a unique position to show leadership.
Safety is seen as the number one priority, as it should be, as construction continues to be one of the most dangerous industries in the world. As a result, the industry, through processes and practices, puts a huge emphasis on safety.
“That’s put construction in a good position to stay open because the COVID-related requirements fit into an existing mindset and culture and framework for rolling out safety-related new processes and approaches,” says Kanner.
5. Safety Reports
Safety Reports is an inspection app that allows users to document worksite inspections using OSHA checklists and Corrective Action Tracking (eCAT) reports.
Building on its existing capabilities, Safety Reports has made a slew of safety resources available to businesses affected by COVID-19.
- Virtual Safety Reports (VSR) – A remote inspection capability that allows you to inspect jobsites even from a distance, especially relevant in the time of social distancing and restrictions on travel.
- COVID-19 Virus Preparedness Checklist – A brand-new checklist on Safety Reports’ Inspection App contains categories and questions to ensure the jobsite is compliant with the current standards.
- Coronavirus Exposure Prevention Toolbox Talk – A new addition to Safety Reports’ training app library is a safety walk on preventing exposure to coronavirus.
Safety Reports also offers a Scan App to perform touchless, paperless COVID-19 risk assessments for all workers and site visitors. Simply open the Scan App, and scan a QR code on the worker’s hard hat. The app then opens with a checklist an assessor can follow step by step to properly inquire about a worker’s health before allowing them access to the jobsite.
Sine focuses on making it easy and fast for all site visitors to log their presence, making operations safer and saving time for everybody. The free Sine Pro mobile app makes it simple for any contractor, visitor, or staff member to check in and out without face-to-face contact.
Using Sine, checking in or out is as simple as scanning a QR code on a poster placed at an entry or exit door. Site managers receive an alert whenever anybody arrives or leaves, allowing them to keep track of who is on site at any given time. Sine Pro makes prescreening automatic by requiring site visitors to complete a COVID-19 questionnaire through the app before entry is allowed.
An optional add-on through Sine’s partnership with FLIR is a thermal camera. It allows companies to record everyone’s temperature using a laser thermometer, then displayed on the Sine dashboard. Site managers can then grant or deny access based on the temperature reading.
We don’t yet know how our work and lives will change after the pandemic, but we do know that the health and safety processes on construction sites will look markedly different going forward.