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Sponsored: Triax Technologies

How the Internet of Things Can Help Solve Construction’s Safety Challenges

Contractors need a tech-driven answer to increase worker safety and productivity on the jobsite.
By: | May 30, 2018 • 5 min read

Heavy machinery, tall scaffolding, a diverse workforce, and large, chaotic project sites are just some of the factors that make worker safety a top challenge and priority for the construction industry.

“It’s one of the more dangerous industries in the U.S. with disproportionate fatality and injury rates compared to the rest of the working population,” said Pete Schermerhorn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Triax Technologies.

In 2016, construction accounted for 21.1 percent of all private industry fatalities, and falls accounted for 38.7 percent of those fatalities [1]. As a result, construction companies pay some of the highest workers’ compensation premiums.

The construction industry’s reliance on manual processes, paper-based records, and legacy reporting systems also presents safety and risk management challenges for construction managers and insurance professionals because it traps important project information away in a filing cabinet or in the jobsite trailer.

This makes claims management and investigation a challenge, forcing contractors to dig through written reports that can be incomplete or inaccurate. Without a digital database of safety incident information across projects or an organization, contractors and insurers miss an opportunity to seamlessly analyze data to identify trends and risks that can help them build safer in the future.

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers a promising solution to some of these pressing challenges.

Innovative, connected solutions combine a mesh network, wearables and equipment sensors to help solve construction’s safety challenges while boosting productivity and providing unprecedented visibility into safety practices. Spot-r by Triax Technologies is one such solution. Combined with intelligent software and data analytics, this system gives insurers a new look into what’s happening at the jobsite with their contractors.

A Tech-Driven Answer 

Pete Schermerhorn, President and Chief Operating Officer

Triax’s cloud-connected worker wearable, the Spot-r Clip, provides an improved, streamlined form of on-site monitoring and communication. With the press of a button, a worker can alert his foreman to an unsafe condition, such as loose scaffolding, or a situation that requires assistance. The supervisor need only check the Spot-r system’s central dashboard to identify the worker’s floor and zone-based location on site.

These sophisticated wearable tags can also detect fall events and collect data around the circumstances of an injury, tracking factors such as the height of a fall and the ambient conditions. The dashboard will also let the supervisor identify who else was in proximity when the incident occurred.

“A wearable device records the fall and tells us when and where the incident occurred,” Schermerhorn said. “It automatically notifies designated personnel, which helps to improve injury response by more than 90 percent, but it also documents critical incident information including a timestamp, distance of fall, and weather on site. This completely streamlines the documentation process and creates a robust digital record that can be used to identify risks in the hopes of preventing future incidents.”

Connecting the Spot-r Clip to the Spot-r EquipTag can also help reduce the risk of non-certified workers taking control of a piece of heavy machinery. The EquipTag adheres to machinery and equipment on site and works with the Spot-r Clip to detect operator identity. The system also checks worker certifications, maintained in the Spot-r dashboard, sending supervisors a notification if there’s an unknown or unauthorized worker in the vicinity of tagged equipment.

In addition, despite today’s tech-advanced world, most site supervisors use nothing more sophisticated than a blowhorn to signal an evacuation. Given the size and high noise level of some job sites, this is not an efficient way to get a message to workers quickly, and every moment of delay further jeopardizes workers’ safety. In the event of a fire or other emergency, evacuation speed is critical, and IoT-enabled alert systems are improving this process.

“With a connected solution, like Spot-r, a general contractor would only need to access the cloud dashboard and click ‘Enable Evacuation’ to sound an alarm on all of the workers’ Clips, as well as a system of mounted evacuation alarms,” Schermerhorn said.

Designed to withstand the challenges of an active construction site, the Spot-r EvacTag can get the message to workers faster with a 100-decibel, flashing alarm, that is also amplified by an audible alarm on each worker’s wearable device.

“Our EvacTags help get people off-site as much as 70 percent faster. The human and safety implications are significant — in an emergency situation, you want to get people out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.” Schermerhorn said.

Productivity Pros

That speed is also a boon for productivity. General contractors are often required by their jurisdictions or their insurance carriers to conduct evacuation drills at regular intervals. If those drills can be completed 70 percent faster, the entire emergency preparation process is much more efficient and effective. When workers or sites view practicing safety as a time-consuming distraction, safety itself can suffer.

There is also great value in digitizing and centralizing this data, eliminating paper processes and the time associated with locating and verifying paper records. Assigning a wearable Clip to every worker helps contactors accurately document where those workers are spending their time on site, allowing foremen to proactively measure progress and adjust scheduling or reassign workers to different tasks as needed.

Similarly, the Spot-r EquipTag optimizes equipment usage by collecting data around a machine’s utilization and active vs. idle time. That information can be used to reassign that equipment to another location where it can be put to better use.

A Solution Built for Construction

The realities of the construction site, however, often impede the use of platform technology that can centralize the data generated by connected devices and make it accessible in real time. Such a system requires reliable connectivity and must have the ability to withstand the dust, vibrations and tough building materials created by construction work.

“A primary challenge is that there’s no fixed structure to attach a network to. The materials in play are constantly moving. Additionally, concrete and steel are difficult to penetrate from a radio frequency standpoint, so it’s tough to maintain a steady connection,” Schermerhorn said.

There also aren’t many places to plug in.

“It’s one of the most inhospitable environments for IoT technology.”

By creating a closed mesh network, Triax’s construction-specific Spot-r solution is not reliant on any existing Wi-Fi networks.

“It exists on its own, which means you’re able to travel throughout the site and stay connected in areas where you might not normally have satellite connectivity,” Schermerhorn said.

Spot-r’s wearable devices and equipment tags are rechargeable and automatically switch on and off, saving a lot of daily hassle.

“The system is low-maintenance and non-invasive,” Schermerhorn said. “It’s solutions like this that are helping to bring construction into the 21st century.”

To learn more, visit https://www.triaxtec.com/workersafety/.

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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 Triax Technologies. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Through its flagship Spot-r system, Triax Technologies provides real-time visibility into workers, equipment, and safety on site, resulting in increased operational efficiency, faster response to injuries and overall improved project management.

Risk Focus: Workers' Comp

Do You Have Employees or Gig Workers?

The number of gig economy workers is growing in the U.S. But their classification as contractors leaves many without workers’ comp, unemployment protection or other benefits.
By: and | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

A growing number of Americans earn their living in the gig economy without employer-provided benefits and protections such as workers’ compensation.

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With the proliferation of on-demand services powered by digital platforms, questions surrounding who does and does not actually work in the gig economy continue to vex stakeholders. Courts and legislators are being asked to decide what constitutes an employee and what constitutes an independent contractor, or gig worker.

The issues are how the worker is paid and who controls the work process, said Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law with a client roster in the trucking industry.

The common law test, he said, the same one the IRS uses, considers “whose tools and whose materials are used. Whether the employer is telling the worker how to do the job on a minute-to-minute basis. Whether the worker is paid by the hour or by the job. Whether he’s free to work for someone else.”

Legal challenges have occurred, starting with lawsuits against transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. Several court cases in recent years have come down on the side of allowing such companies to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.

Those decisions are significant for TNCs, because the gig model relies on the lower labor cost of independent contractors. Classification as an employee adds at least 30 percent to labor costs.

The issues lie with how a worker is paid and who controls the work process. — Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney

However, a March 2018 California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving delivery drivers for Dynamex went the other way. The Dynamex decision places heavy emphasis on whether the worker is performing a core function of the business.

Under the Dynamex court’s standard, an electrician called to fix a wiring problem at an Uber office would be considered a general contractor. But a driver providing rides to customers would be part of the company’s central mission and therefore an employee.

Despite the California ruling, a Philadelphia court a month later declined to follow suit, ruling that Uber’s limousine drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So a definitive answer remains elusive.

A Legislative Movement

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors introduces risks to both employers and workers, said Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust.

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered.”

Misclassifying workers opens a “Pandora’s box” for employers, said Richard R. Meneghello, partner, Fisher Phillips.

Issues include tax liabilities, claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ comp benefits, civil labor law rights and wrongful termination suits.

The motive for companies seeking the contractor definition is clear: They don’t have to pay for benefits, said Meneghello. “But from a legal perspective, it’s not so easy to turn the workforce into contractors.”

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered in the eyes of the state.” — Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

It’s about to get easier, however. In 2016, Handy — which is being sued in five states for misclassification of workers — drafted a N.Y. bill to establish a program where gig-economy companies would pay 2.5 percent of workers’ income into individual health savings accounts, yet would classify them as independent contractors.

Unions and worker advocacy groups argue the program would rob workers of rights and protections. So Handy moved on to eight other states where it would be more likely to win.

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So far, the Handy bills have passed one house of the legislature in Georgia and Colorado; passed both houses in Iowa and Tennessee; and been signed into law in Kentucky, Utah and Indiana. A similar bill was also introduced in Alabama.

The bills’ language says all workers who find jobs through a website or mobile app are independent contractors, as long as the company running the digital platform does not control schedules, prohibit them from working elsewhere and meets other criteria. Two bills exclude transportation network companies such as Uber.

These laws could have far-reaching consequences. Traditional service companies will struggle to compete with start-ups paying minimal labor costs.

Opponents warn that the Handy bills are so broad that a service company need only launch an app for customers to contract services, and they’d be free to re-classify their employees as independent contractors — leaving workers without social security, health insurance or the protections of unemployment insurance or workers’ comp.

That could destabilize social safety nets as well as shrink available workers’ comp premiums.

A New Classification

Independent contractors need to buy their own insurance, including workers’ compensation. But many don’t, said Hart Brown, executive vice president, COO, Firestorm. They may not realize that in the case of an accident, their personal car and health insurance won’t engage, Brown said.

Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

Workers’ compensation for gig workers can be hard to find. Some state-sponsored funds provide self-employed contractors’ coverage.  Policies can be expensive though in some high-risk occupations, such as roofing, said Bollinger.

The gig system, where a worker does several different jobs for several different companies, breaks down without portable benefits, said Brown. Portable benefits would follow workers from one workplace engagement to another.

What a portable benefits program would look like is unclear, he said, but some combination of employers, independent contractors and intermediaries (such as a digital platform business or staffing agency) would contribute to the program based on a percentage of each transaction.

There is movement toward portable benefits legislation. The Aspen Institute proposed portable benefits where companies contribute to workers’ benefits based on how much an employee works for them. Uber and SEI together proposed a portable benefits bill to the Washington State Legislature.

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Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act for the study of portable benefits, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D. WA) introduced a House companion bill.

Meneghello is skeptical of portable benefits as a long-term solution. “They’re a good first step,” he said, “but they paper over the problem. We need a new category of workers.”

A portable benefits model would open opportunities for the growing Insurtech market. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit, estimates the gig economy to be about 34 percent of the workforce in 2018, growing to 43 percent by 2020.

The insurance industry reinvented itself from a risk transfer mechanism to a risk management mechanism, Brown said, and now it’s reinventing itself again as risk educator to a new hybrid market. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected] Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]