Increased work demands, lack of employee support, and the adoption of new technologies are driving rising concerns about workplace safety. More than one-third of business leaders believe that workplace safety will become more difficult to maintain thanks to shifts in employee mental health and talent retention.
Many companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in an effort to restore workplace safety and combat rising employee stress levels. The right combination of automation and AI can help improve workplace safety by reducing human error, providing early warning detection, and improving operations.
Among other fields, the construction industry has already found ways to integrate automation and AI into daily business practices. Construction organizations of all sizes are using technology to estimate costs, predict maintenance patterns, improve safety monitoring, and track the construction takeoff process. This technology keeps employees away from dangerous tasks, helps them avoid burnout, and allows for automatic hazard detection.
In hazardous work environments like a construction workplace, automation can handle hazardous work traditionally completed by workers. Automating potentially hazardous tasks can help remove workers from dangerous situations and reduce overall risk.
Construction leaders can automate dangerous tasks in a variety of ways. For example, some construction managers use technologies that can automate painting, bricklaying, or other repetitive tasks. Other construction sites use drone technology to inspect construction sites without the need to walk through potentially unsafe environments.
Overwork and fatigue can be hazardous in any line of work. In a construction environment, they can lead to serious bodily harm to yourself, to others, or to the structures you’re building.
Some construction sites are already deploying technology to help combat the effects of overwork and fatigue. For example, construction companies can provide employees with wearable devices that automatically monitor vitals like heart rate, skin temperature, or other physical movements. These devices help managers identify potential fatigue, removing workers from hazardous work environments before they create additional risks.
Other technologies can help project leaders track where workers spend time while onsite. These programs can help increase accountability and productivity, particularly when workers know their managers are tracking where time is spent. AI-enabled time-tracking programs also help managers ensure that workers are spending time on the most relevant tasks.
Computer vision technology can automatically monitor a video feed to detect potential hazards. These programs are trained to monitor the live feed of a single camera or camera network, identifying risks and notifying project leaders before those risks worsen. The same programs can often monitor pre-recorded video sessions, for training purposes.
Hazard detection programs help protect against a variety of different threats. These risks can include unsafe working conditions like exposed chemicals, workers without protective clothing, and other compliance issues. Computer vision can also spot misuse of tools and equipment, trip and fall hazards, unattended vehicles, and equipment out of place.
Security systems in a construction workplace can also benefit from automation and AI integration. Some AI algorithms improve hazard detection or object recognition programs, information that triggers alerts whenever the program identifies a potential safety risk. The same AI can also offer facial recognition and motion detection technologies, helping security surveillance programs identify unauthorized personnel or workers that enter a restricted area.
Some automation programs improve the analytical side of security surveillance. For example, video compression AI helps optimize video compression, reducing the amount of data that’s stored and transmitted from one device to the next. This compression improves video feed quality and can accelerate data transfer speeds.
AI is often combined with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), to improve the quality of safety training programs. Together, AI and other technologies enhance several aspects of a construction organization’s safety programs, from emergency response training to hazardous waste removal.
Already improving outcomes in the firefighting space, AI and VR provide several key benefits to safety training regimens for construction workers. Combined, these technologies allow workers to experience hands-on training without the need to enter a potentially hazardous construction setting. Workers can navigate virtual environments, make decisions, and analyze those decisions without any risk of actual danger.
AI also contributes to the construction planning process, helping workers make accurate calculations and reduce errors. The predictive insights that AI provides can accelerate many stages of pre-construction, including materials inventory, measurements, safety planning and training, and risk assessment.
Situational prediction is a powerful benefit that AI provides. Automated prediction programs allow construction employees to minimize errors during calculation, errors that could have created real risk during the building process. The same tools also allow workers to communicate more effectively, collectively contributing measurements, materials estimates, and cost forecasts to the construction takeoff process. This means contractors can collaborate with clients and laborers, effectively projecting and delegating tasks for a project.
Predicting costs, timelines, and other project details does more than eliminate risk; it also helps save valuable time in the workplace. With reduced potential for accidents, workers can operate confidently and quickly with the support of a data-driven insights program.
Implementing artificial intelligence can also lead to some challenges, particularly if the technology is used incorrectly. Here are some of the challenges AI and automation might face in the workplace:
Despite hesitations, construction companies are already finding ways to overcome concerns related to AI and automation. For example, companies are providing training for employees unfamiliar with AI — and recognizing when employees use AI to become even more productive. Automation platforms are increasingly trained with a focus on diversity during development, to avoid the possibility of bias during deployment.
AI and automation are already improving the modern construction workplace. They’re creating smarter, safer work environments where employees can spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time making high-level decisions. AI can make better cost and measurement estimations and reduce hazards for employees exposed to potential health and safety risks.
Technology will continue to make construction worksites safer and more secure. For example, autonomous construction equipment can reduce the risk of human error and injury, while new software tools help reduce errors when workers estimate costs, take measurements, or forecast project completion times. AI can also help construction leaders proactively identify and mitigate workplace risks before they materialize.