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How Tech Can Knockout Construction Risk and Improve Jobsite Safety

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When it comes to construction, we can all learn a lot from legendary boxer “Iron” Mike Tyson. Before one of his fights, he was asked if he was worried about his opponent, Evander Hollyfield’s, carefully planned fight strategy. His response, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

A construction project is a bit like a boxing match, really. You can train and plan all you want, but once the bell has rung and a project has started, all kinds of things can start to punch you in the mouth. As unforeseen problems arise, as they always do, budgets get strained and deadlines get overrun. Some have estimated that jobsite errors cost anywhere between ten and 25 percent of total construction costs, adding up to tens of billions of dollars annually.

At first glance, this might seem like a construction industry problem. The contractors are the ones that have to do the extra work, after all. But, most mistakes are actually an expense of the property owner. It is they who bear the monetary costs, and maybe more importantly, lose out on the revenue collected when a project is delayed. To help mitigate the risks associated with mistakes, landlords and property owners look to technology to help them manage, understand, and expedite the construction project. 

A recent survey from the construction software technology company Procore has quantified exactly how much time and money can be saved by implementing their platform. Of the owners surveyed, 86 percent reported better project visibility, and 83 percent said they saw an improvement in standardization as well. Because of this, owners were able to increase the projects that they were able to manage by 29 percent without adding any additional staff. 

This is obviously a huge improvement, one that seems almost impossible. Construction crews have been running into problems and taking punches since, well, since humans first started building. It turns out that the biggest reason for this improvement is in the way that unexpected changes are handled. Every problem triggers a chain of back and forth that can result in a lot of unnecessary waiting. Some companies still send change requests by mail but even emails can get stuck in an inbox, unread. 

The situation is made more complicated because the communication isn’t just between the construction companies and the owners. Funding for large projects comes in tranches that get paid out when certain phases have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction. This means that lenders often need to be involved in the process as well. Towards the end of each stage of the process the owners and/or lenders will submit a document called, true to our boxing analogy, a punch list. Contractors then respond with a request for information, or RFI, to get a detailed understanding of how exactly they need to make the desired changes. 

Every one of these interactions creates inefficiencies and presents an opportunity for error. If someone forgets to send an email, or doesn’t include every stakeholder, there could be costly miscommunications. This can make this back and forth take weeks. But, according to the survey, using technology can bring this down to an average of three days and save a job foreman as much as twelve hours per week. All of this efficiency is gained by little more than using software to connect workers on the site to decision makers in the office.

Being over budget and behind schedule are not the only risks associated with a construction project. Construction has inherent risks for the workers on-site. Zachary Reiss-Davis, ​Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Procore, explains why jobsite accidents are still so prevalent, “One of the problems in understanding the safety risk of any given work is that, in the old system, only the accidents are recorded. While this is a good start, it doesn’t take into consideration all the near misses that might have happened as a warning sign that an incident would eventually occur.” By putting reporting software in the hands of construction workers, close calls can be easily reported, and safety issues can be addressed.

One of the problems in understanding the safety risk of any given work is that, in the old system, only the accidents are recorded. While this is a good start, it doesn’t take into consideration all the near misses that might have happened as a warning sign that an incident would eventually occur

Zachary Reiss-Davis, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Procore

​While safety is directly the responsibility of everyone working directly on-site construction project owners, above all else, want to keep people safe. No deadline or cost reduction is worth someone getting hurt or worse. The unnecessary pain that a workplace accident creates is made worse by the loss of moral, time consuming insurance claims process and project delays that accompany it.

The risk of jobsite injury has a whole other complication thanks to the COVID-19. Now, foremen are not just responsible for injuries their employees might get from their jobs but also for any exposure they have to the virus. Tracing where workers go and who they come in contact with could be what prevents an outbreak that could potentially stop the entire project.

No matter how much experience you have or how much you prepare, a construction project will always encounter setbacks. Therefore, it isn’t whether a problem will arise, but how you respond to these setbacks that matters. Construction is a lot like boxing. A plan going into the bout or job is important but experience and training are the only things that will help you overcome the inevitable adversity. The difference is that boxers only have one opponent to worry about. Construction managers and financers, on the other hand, have an unlimited amount of unknown difficulties to content with. That is why contractors and building owners need to learn from Iron Mike and find every possible advantage to help them work together and regroup when they get that first punch in the mouth.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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