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A first-of-its-kind pilot shows the potential for wearable devices in construction

GPS watches can help contractors boost efficiency and safety. But this test also demonstrated how much more room there is to grow. Technology has only just begun to touch the modern jobsite.

The construction industry has taken tremendous strides in embracing technology, and industry leaders see abundant opportunity for additional innovation. Safety and productivity are perennial areas of interest, especially on large jobsites where keeping track of workers is challenging. If site supervisors had more specific information about worker locations, they could make more informed decisions regarding task allocation and respond to injured workers more quickly.

Technology could improve on the industry’s current approaches to these challenges. In 2018, according to TechCrunch.com, investors poured $3.1 billion into U.S.-based construction technology startups. From drones to connected property sensors to “smart” PPE and other wearable devices, technology firms are attempting to modernize and optimize the jobsite. AXA XL includes itself among parties interested in helping contractors do their jobs more safely and efficiently.

New tools are only useful, however, if they can stand up to the noise, heat and dust of the jobsite environment, and if contractors buy in to their value. To that end, AXA XL recently partnered with Samsung and Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the nation’s largest privately held construction firms, to pilot the Samsung Galaxy Watch in an active jobsite. Brasfield & Gorrie has piloted several construction-specific technologies and identified areas in which existing products can increase worker safety and report more accurately on productivity. By partnering with Samsung and AXA XL, Brasfield & Gorrie intends to identify and lead the next trends in construction technology.

With the ability to track wearers’ locations all day, the watches could potentially illuminate where workflow inefficiencies emerge, help workers avoid hazardous areas, and speed up injury response times. It was the first time Samsung tested its watch in a construction jobsite, and the first time they had partnered with an insurance company to pilot a product.

About the pilot
Workers in a variety of roles were selected to wear the watches for 60 days. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch would be used to monitor the watches’ location and synthesize the data they collect.

The primary goal of the pilot was to test the watch in four categories: functionality, durability, data quality, and worker adherence. Could the watches perform consistently and withstand wear and tear of construction work? Would they provide useful data insights that managers could use to improve workflow? And perhaps most importantly, would workers be comfortable being tracked all day long?

All three parties met on a bi-weekly basis to discuss outcomes and areas for improvement.

The chosen jobsite presented a few obstacles for the watches to overcome. The site was large and included several buildings. Each of these structures was in a different phase of the construction process, meaning the concentration of workers at any given location would likely shift over the two-month period. The site was also in a high-traffic area, which could potentially interrupt the GPS signals.

All of these factors would test whether the watch made sense for the industry. From a data perspective, the pilot was also a chance to explore what other business benefits might be gleaned from access to real-time information.

The watches ultimately performed well across all four categories, proving durable and usable in a construction environment.

Positive outcomes
The watches ultimately performed well across all four categories, proving durable and usable in a construction environment.

One of the core functions of the watch is communication, and workers found that messages scrolling across the watch face were easy to read even in bright sunlight. A push-to-talk function also enabled hands-free communication that workers valued because it minimized distraction and interruption.

While not utilized, a “man-down” alert feature was available to support faster responses to safety incidents. After detecting sudden changes in elevation associated with a fall, the watch automatically sends an alert to a designated supervisor, who can then ensure help gets to the fallen worker quickly. This function also captures the time and location of the fall—useful for incident reporting.

Geofences—virtual perimeters set in the GearUP app to delineate different areas of the jobsite—were accurately recorded by the watches, allowing site supervisors to more easily track movement and spot patterns. A lot of back-and-forth could signify an opportunity to adjust assignments or rearrange supplies to save time.

Perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes of the pilot was just how willing workers were to participate. Historically, wariness of being watched has been a barrier to implementation of wearable devices, but Brasfield & Gorrie workers were happy to take ownership over the watches and excited to see what benefits they bring to the work environment. So much so that they took on the responsibility of taking the watches home and charging them every night, a logistically easier option than collecting and redistributing the watches every day.

Brasfield & Gorrie currently uses other means to implement safety protocol and improve efficiencies. However, the company sees great possibility in using smartwatches as a tool to monitor safety and efficiency in the future. The company will monitor the technology to determine when it is economical to roll out smartwatches as a large-scale solution.

Partnership: A key to success
Overall, the pilot also yielded a recognition of the many business benefits wearables could provide beyond safety. Each equipped with LTE connectivity, the watches act as mini-smartphones onto which other apps could be loaded. That means possibilities for more advanced communication capabilities, push weather alerts, and even biometric tracking.

Though biometric data comes with its own set of privacy challenges, the ability to track heart rate, body temperature and perspiration could help to prevent burnout or more dangerous conditions like dehydration or heat stroke. Those functions will likely be tested in later pilots, which all three parties are open to pursuing.

Pilots represent exciting opportunities to test out new tech for new purposes. But any successful pilot demands a strong and equal partnership among all involved parties. In this case, Samsung’s desire to find and test new capabilities for its technology was well received by Brasfield & Gorrie, a firm with a dedicated innovation team and a risk manager with a keen interest in technology. And, AXA Group, with its own innovation arm, is well-positioned to connect its technology partners with the right clients and committed to working on more pilots of wearable tech in the future.

About the authors
Justin Gress is Director of Strategic Operations for AXA XL. He can be reached at justin.gress@axaxl.com. Katie Voss is Director of Corporate Risk Management of Brasfield & Gorrie. She can be reached at KVoss@BrasfieldGorrie.com.

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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