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Collaboration at the Crossroads of Safety and Technology

Leveraging what new technology has to offer calls for greater collaboration on the job site.
By: | October 3, 2017 • 7 min read

Rapid-fire advancements in technology can leave many business sectors with whiplash trying to keep up.

The construction industry, however, has largely been immune to tech disruption. The means and methods of erecting a building, bridge or any other structure have more or less remained the same over the years.

But change is on the horizon.

New technology — like building information modeling (BIM), wearables, and automated machinery — is growing more prevalent on job sites.

These modern tools promise to boost efficiency, help address the skilled labor shortage and ultimately keep workers safer. Construction remains, after all, one of the riskiest industries from a safety standpoint.

But new technology also presents new risks if not thoughtfully implemented. Project owners, contractors and workers all must understand how a piece of technology works and how it benefits every stakeholder for it to be effective.

To harness the promise of construction technology while minimizing its downsides, contractors and their insurers should adopt a collaborative approach to understand how new tools fit into a project’s workflow, which encompasses everything from production processes and schedules to safety and risk management programs.

“Technology is changing the construction industry,” said Tom Boudreau, vice president of construction insurance for The Hartford. “Without strong collaboration and understanding of a common goal, safety and a good work product can’t be accomplished.”

Technology Promise and Perils

Dennis Gardner, risk engineering director, The Hartford

Compared to traditional paper blueprints, BIM models provide a more detailed, interactive and 3D view of a project. Digitizing the plans has given way to more innovative building methods.

“With 3D BIM technology, we’re seeing much more off-site prefabrication being done in manufacturing warehouse environments,” said Dennis Gardner, risk engineering director, The Hartford. “This can reduce risk because much of the work is done at ground level, eliminating the need to put workers on ladders or in lifts.”

But getting pre-fabricated modules on-site creates unique challenges.

Pre-fabricated units that include interior designs should not be exposed to weather, which makes transporting, delivering and storing them risky. Collaboration is paramount to using these models effectively.

“In the past if your schedule was off by a day or two, there was typically a storage area for raw materials. But with a finished product that really should not be exposed to the elements, you have to be ready for when that unit arrives on site,” Boudreau said. “That requires a high level of coordination between the manufacturer and workers on site to keep schedules in sync.”

Wearables and GPS trackers similarly provide big safety benefits when workers and managers are on the same page.

A superintendent or foreman could, for example, apply geofencing to keep workers out of high hazard areas like elevated platforms if their work does not require them to be there. If a worker crosses the boundary, an alert may be sent directly to their wearable device, or to a safety manager on site. GPS tracking can also alert a manager to a worker’s location if they have fallen or otherwise injured themselves.

To some workers, though, wearing a tracking device can feel like Big Brother is watching, waiting to pin them for violating a safety protocol.

“Collaboration and communication is key to help contractors and laborers understand that the purpose of the technology is not to catch them doing something wrong, but to help them work safer and more efficiently,” Gardner said.

Automated and remote-controlled machinery can also improve safety by keeping workers away from high risk areas and activities.

“Semi-automated masonry machines can build a masonry wall semi-automatically with only minimal actual worker interface, reducing the risk of injury from material handling strains and injuries from falls,” Gardner said.

“Years ago if you were drilling in a quarry or on a construction project with a rock drill, the operator was standing right at the drill head operating the controls that applied the pressure, the rotational spin and the water control. Now that can be done remotely to eliminate the exposure to loud noise, the material handling of the heavy drill steel, and of course the exposure to silica.”

But any new machinery presents risks if handled improperly. The lack of labor skilled in operating new, high tech equipment — combined with inadequate training — exacerbate these risks.

Labor and Training Shortage

Tom Boudreau, vice president of construction insurance for The Hartford

“The economic downturn really diminished the training resources offered by vocational schools and unions, which leads to less trained folks coming onto a job site. That’s a dangerous situation from a safety perspective and also from a product perspective,” Boudreau said.

Younger workers also tend to learn differently, utilizing technology where their veteran counterparts relied more on gaining hands-on experience in the field. Older workers, perhaps feeling threatened by the new technology or newer and younger workers coming onto the scene, are at times resistant to help train them.

“We have been disappointed, in some cases, with the lack of willingness of some of the older generation to teach the new generation necessary skills,” Boudreau said. But where technology widens the divide between the young and the experienced, it can also provide a new training avenue.

“Some of the wearables show some promise in that they can remotely connect a less experienced person in the field with a more seasoned worker, who can help to troubleshoot whatever issue the trainee is encountering.” Gardner said. “In some cases, the wearable device can provide a live view of the situation at hand.”

GPS units, BIM models, and digitally automated equipment may also provide data on workflow processes and safety vulnerabilities. Gaining additional insight into these areas will likely prove critical as construction timetables further compress and the labor shortage persists.

“We have to shift to a proactive safety approach. We have to think about what risks we’ll face weeks or months ahead in the schedule.” — Dennis Gardner, risk engineering director, The Hartford

A Collaborative Approach

Leveraging what technology has to offer — from safer work sites to better data and increased efficiency —calls for collaboration on the job site.

This is where The Hartford’s dedicated construction risk engineering consultants take a leading role.

“We have to move from a traditional inspector role into more of a consultative role,” Gardner said. “We want to understand the dynamics of a company, their safety programs, and how they’re using automated tools or connected technology.”

Inspectors typically only spot point-in-time problems while they’re walking a job site. They don’t necessarily have insight into systemic issues that lead to safety shortfalls, or hazards the company may face in future phases of construction.

“Traditional inspection approaches are reactive and punitive. We have to shift to a proactive safety approach. We have to think about what risks we’ll face weeks or months ahead in the schedule,” Gardner said.

To help accomplish this proactive approach, The Hartford’s risk engineering consultants meet with contractors before a project even begins to identify phases of construction or periods in the schedule where risk may be highest. They discuss ahead of time what will be done to mitigate the risk, including evaluating the safety program. They can help project managers implement things like wearables if there is a desire to use them.

“The use of technology, especially the newer technology that’s been developed in the last decade, is eventually going to lead to much safer job sites,” Boudreau said. “But it all starts with a collaborative approach.”

For more on The Hartford’s construction offerings, visit https://www.thehartford.com/construction.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with The Hartford. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




The Hartford is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity.

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Property

Insurers Take to the Skies

This year’s hurricane season sees the use of drones and other aerial intelligence gathering systems as insurers seek to estimate claims costs.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 6 min read

For Southern communities, current recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey will recall the painful devastation of 2005, when Katrina and Wilma struck. But those who look skyward will notice one conspicuous difference this time around: drones.

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Much has changed since Katrina and Wilma, both economically and technologically. The insurance industry evolved as well. Drones and other visual intelligence systems (VIS) are set to play an increasing role in loss assessment, claims handling and underwriting.

Farmers Insurance, which announced in August it launched a fleet of drones to enhance weather-related property damage claim assessment, confirmed it deployed its fleet in the aftermath of Harvey.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now,” said George Mathew, CEO of Kespry, Farmers’ drone and aerial intelligence platform provider partner.

“The current wind and hail damage season that we are entering is when many of the insurance carriers are switching from proof of concept work to full production rollout.”

 According to Mathew, Farmers’ fleet focused on wind damage in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, at the time of this writing. “Additional work is already underway in the greater Houston area and will expand in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

No doubt other carriers have fleets in the air. AIG, for example, occupied the forefront of VIS since winning its drone operation license in 2015. It deployed drones to inspections sites in the U.S. and abroad, including stadiums, hotels, office buildings, private homes, construction sites and energy plants.

Claims Response

At present, insurers are primarily using VIS for CAT loss assessment. After a catastrophe, access is often prohibited or impossible. Drones allow access for assessing damage over potentially vast areas in a more cost-effective and time-sensitive manner than sending human inspectors with clipboards and cameras.

“Drones improve risk analysis by providing a more efficient alternative to capturing aerial photos from a sky-view. They allow insurers to rapidly assess the scope of damages and provide access that may not otherwise be available,” explained Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy at JLT Specialty USA.

“The pent-up demand for drones, particularly from a claims-processing standpoint, has been accumulating for almost two years now.” — George Mathew, CEO, Kespry

“In our experience, competitive advantage is gained mostly by claims departments and third-party administrators. Having the capability to provide exact measurements and details from photos taken by drones allows insurers to expedite the claim processing time,” he added.

Indeed, as tech becomes more disruptive, insurers will increasingly seek to take advantage of VIS technologies to help them provide faster, more accurate and more efficient insurance solutions.

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

One way Farmers is differentiating its drone program is by employing its own FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives.

Keith Daly, E.V.P. and chief claims officer for Farmers Insurance, said when launching the program that this sets Farmers apart from most carriers, who typically engage third-party drone pilots to conduct evaluations.

“In the end, it’s all about the experience for the policyholder who has their claim adjudicated in the most expeditious manner possible,” said Mathew.

“The technology should simply work and just melt away into the background. That’s why we don’t just focus on building an industrial-grade drone, but a complete aerial intelligence platform for — in this case — claims management.”

Insurance Applications

Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader at Marsh, believes that, while currently employed primarily to assess catastrophic damage, VIS will increasingly be employed to inspect standard property damage claims.

However, he admitted that at this stage they are better at identifying binary factors such as the area affected by a peril rather than complex assessments, since VIS cannot look inside structures nor assess their structural integrity.

“If a chemical plant suffers an explosion, it might be difficult to say whether the plant is fully or partially out of operation, for example, which would affect a business interruption claim dramatically.

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“But for simpler assessments, such as identifying how many houses or industrial units have been destroyed by a tornado, or how many rental cars in a lot have suffered hail damage from a storm, a VIS drone could do this easily, and the insurer can calculate its estimated losses from there,” he said.

In addition,VIS possess powerful applications for pre-loss risk assessment and underwriting. The high-end drones used by insurers can capture not just visual images, but mapping heat, moisture or 3D topography, among other variables.

This has clear applications in the assessment and completion of claims, but also in potentially mitigating risk before an event happens, and pricing insurance accordingly.

“VIS and drones will play an increasing underwriting support role as they can help underwriters get a better idea of the risk — a picture tells a thousand words and is so much better than a report,” said Ellis.

VIS images allow underwriters to see risks in real time, and to visually spot risk factors that could get overlooked using traditional checks or even mature visual technologies like satellites. For example, VIS could map thermal hotspots that could signal danger or poor maintenance at a chemical plant.

Chris Luck, national practice leader of Advocacy, JLT Specialty USA

“Risk and underwriting are very natural adjacencies, especially when high risk/high value policies are being underwritten,” said Mathew.

“We are in a transformational moment in insurance where claims processing, risk management and underwriting can be reimagined with entirely new sources of data. The drone just happens to be one of most compelling of those sources.”

Ellis added that drones also could be employed to monitor supplies in the marine, agriculture or oil sectors, for example, to ensure shipments, inventories and supply chains are running uninterrupted.

“However, we’re still mainly seeing insurers using VIS drones for loss assessment and estimates, and it’s not even clear how extensively they are using drones for that purpose at this point,” he noted.

“Insurers are experimenting with this technology, but given that some of the laws around drone use are still developing and restrictions are often placed on using drones [after] a CAT event, the extent to which VIS is being used is not made overly public.”

Drone inspections could raise liability risks of their own, particularly if undertaken in busy spaces in which they could cause human injury.

Privacy issues also are a potential stumbling block, so insurers are dipping their toes into the water carefully.

Risk Improvement

There is no doubt, however, that VIS use will increase among insurers.

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“Although our clients do not have tremendous experience utilizing drones, this technology is beneficial in many ways, from providing security monitoring of their perimeter to loss control inspections of areas that would otherwise require more costly inspections using heavy equipment or climbers,” said Luck.

In other words, drones could help insurance buyers spot weaknesses, mitigate risk and ultimately win more favorable coverage from their insurers.

“Some risks will see pricing and coverage improvements because the information and data provided by drones will put underwriters at ease and reduce uncertainty,” said Ellis.

The flip-side, he noted, is that there will be fewer places to hide for companies with poor risk management that may have been benefiting from underwriters not being able to access the full picture.

Either way, drones will increasingly help insurers differentiate good risks from bad. In time, they may also help insurance buyers differentiate between carriers, too. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]