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 Underwriters Counsel 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

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]