Embrace tech to make construction safer

The Digital Construction Awards health and safety winners showed the benefits of investing in technology, writes Lesley McLeod.

L Lynch won the Digital Construction Awards 2023 health, safety and wellbeing category for their intelligent autonomous collision avoidance system. Photo © 2023 – ASV Photography Ltd.
L Lynch won the Digital Construction Awards 2023 health, safety and wellbeing category for their intelligent autonomous collision avoidance system. (Photo © 2023 – ASV Photography Ltd.)

One of the greatest risks in construction safety is a reluctance to move with the times. Where a reluctance to adopt new and innovative working practices means safety gets left behind.

Maybe this is not surprising in an industry where more workers are heading towards the exit door in the run-up to retirement than queuing to come on board at the start of their careers. After all, why bother to learn new skills when you’re planning to hang up your hard hat?

I am not decrying time-honoured skills, a boots-on-the-ground safety walk-through or eagle-eyes on site to ensure corners don’t get cut or standards slip.

But embracing new tools can be of great benefit. This is amply demonstrated by the shortlist and the winner of the 2023 Digital Construction Awards Health, Safety and Wellbeing category.

It’s far better to work out issues on screen than learning costly mistakes once a project is underway. Technology allows people to visualise any project, from any angle. It can take people into places they cannot reach, troubleshooting tight spaces and awkward sites.

Digital helps ‘golden thread’

And it can weave a strong thread through the ‘golden thread’ without anyone falling off a roof or backing over a co-worker. Solutions can be found without having to fix things on site, which can lead – among many things – to bricks being cut to fit releasing dangerous dust or items stacked in places that put flesh and bone at risk.

But adopting a digital approach means safety skills have to keep up. That demands catching the next generation young and puts a premium on high-calibre technology skills.

And that’s wider than construction – although it’s also an opportunity.

There’s the chance to capture a wider cohort who could move from Minecraft to real projects. A digital approach could create job openings for people from more diverse backgrounds – people not bound by manual muscles and where the heavy-lifting is done between their ears. People who might not have considered careers in the UK’s built environment.

Diversity has been found to help businesses avoid the lemming-like groupthink that encourages risk-taking. And it could improve construction safety by attracting the brightest talent around. But, to embrace this digital opportunity, we must tackle the analogue and outmoded behaviours still putting new entrants off.

This year’s Digital Construction Awards winners show how embracing digital tech can unleash innovation, attract top talent, and boost safety.

Lesley McLeod is CEO of the Association for Project Safety.

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