Risk Insider: Kate Browne

Breaking with Tradition: How Technology Will Change the Construction Industry

By: | April 11, 2018 • 2 min read
Kate Browne Esq., ARM is a Senior Claims Expert at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. She has spent her entire career in the insurance industry, and speaks and writes extensively on the impact on the legal implications of drones, autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, and other emerging risks. Kate can be reached at [email protected]

For thousands of years people have worked in construction. From the Great Wall and the Pyramids to today’s smart skyscrapers, the human need to create is constant.

However, in an era when technology has transformed how we shop, bank, and communicate, it is startling how little has changed in the construction industry. Many outside the industry are often shocked to discover how many construction firms depend on pencils and paper to track time and attendance, use visual safety checks to make sure no accidents have happened, and blow air horns to announce an emergency or order an evacuation.

But all of this is changing. A 2017 study by McKinsey estimated that over the last six years nearly $10 billion in investment funding has poured into construction technology firms. A new Constructech ecosystem, made up of wearable devices, sensors, virtual and augmented reality, and drones, is now on the horizon and will help general contractors, subcontractors, and workers to build smarter and safer structures.

Rewriting the Rules with Robotics, Cloud Technology and Augmented Reality

Automated robots are increasingly handling repetitive and physically challenging tasks such as brick-laying and beam construction; they may be the answer to the labor shortage issue.

An increasing number of unified communications systems on the market can streamline work flows and make information sharing easier. Cloud and mobility solutions can give architects, designers and contractors instant access to information. Sophisticated planning tools and predictive analytic programs provide insights into the potential outcomes of different scenarios. Real time reports on how the costs and scope of work can change will make the “what if we did this?” discussion more effective and even enjoyable.

From the Great Wall and the Pyramids to today’s smart skyscrapers, the human need to create is constant.

Helmets that use augmented reality superimpose images on a screen that display the layout of pipes and wires, providing specifications for each room. With virtual reality technology, blueprints can be brought to life before a single worker sets foot on a job site. Clients and architects can view the completed building from any angle, in life-size, and even roam the halls to spot hidden problems or flaws.

Worker Safety

Worker safety has always been the industry’s top priority, and the need to embrace innovative solutions has never been greater. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five worker fatalities in the private industry occur in construction. However, an influx of new products is changing that dynamic. Smart helmets turn traditional hardhats into safety systems that can detect everything from drowsiness to heat stroke and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Wearable devices can provide “real time” alerts to site supervisors and safety personnel the instant an accident occurs, and support total visibility so employees, equipment and materials can be tracked.When a supervisor receives automatic slip, trip, and fall push notifications, they can respond to potential injuries immediately. Workers who can instantly and easily report unsafe conditions may feel empowered to stop work if necessary. Technology-enabled safety solutions can promote a culture of site safety.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”


Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]