Below are responses courtesy of Casey Banks, managing risk control consultant at Travelers, as the topics of challenges and pains points are discussed and how technology may benefit the industry.
What are some of the biggest challenges and pain points for contractors that you’re seeing today?
BANKS: Supply chain issues are one of the biggest challenges today. A contractor’s ability to acquire the building materials, tools, and equipment needed has caused and continues to result project delays, pushing back start dates and completion timelines. This issue has affected every type and size of contractor across the country, from general contractors to electrical contractors to excavation contractors.
We’ve seen contractors who are struggling to get the materials and products they need to get their projects done try to identify substitutions to keep the job on schedule and within budget. However, this can bring with it other challenges. For instance, some of the products and methods they may be using could end up costing more. And when materials are swapped, project bottlenecks can occur because a contractor may need to involve other parties, such as engineers and project owners, and review and sign off on the changes.
Another issue contractors are facing, which existed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, is the skilled labor shortage. During the pandemic, we saw this ebb and flow a little bit as projects temporarily shut down and then ramped back up. Today, as construction work continues to increase, the concern of finding skilled labor is becoming a problem with not just field workers but all positions within the organization. Add to this the growing number of workers leaving the industry or retiring, and you have a situation where companies are looking at alternative methods to meet project demands.
And hiring new workers brings with it additional risk. According to the 2022 Travelers Injury Impact Report, which analyzed more than 1.5 million workers compensation claims over a 5-year period (2015-2019), 48% of all construction workers compensation claims occurred within the first year of employment.
How can technology help address and reduce these risks?
BANKS: There are many ways that technology has the potential to help address these risks. The 2022 Travelers Injury Impact Report found that sprains and strains were the top cause of injury in the construction industry (30% of all construction workers’ compensation claims). We’ve seen an increased focus on the use of technology to help drive these numbers down and better manage these exposures on jobsites. For example, to help reduce soft tissue injuries, Travelers offers contractors virtual and on-site ergonomic assessments that leverage AI-enhanced video capabilities and access to a Travelers ergonomics professional to assist in developing consultative solutions that help keep workers safe.
With a higher number of newer workers being injured on jobsites, there is also an opportunity to leverage technology and tech-driven training programs for these workers. For example, proximity detection systems can help prevent struck-by incidents on jobsites with heavy equipment in use. And virtual and augmented reality can help train and onboard workers by placing them in hazardous situations they may encounter on jobsites without physically putting them in harm’s way; crane safety and fall protection training are two areas where this can be particularly helpful.
We’ve also seen an increase in the development and deployment of various technologies to address loss scenarios and property damage risks on construction projects. Water sensors can help detect when there’s an abnormality in water flow on a jobsite and allow for immediate notification and shutdown of the water in active systems to prevent significant damage and costly project delays.
Using robotics for tasks like bricklaying, rebar tying and even jobsite surveillance can help supplement, not replace, the workforce, potentially providing some relief for contractors who may be struggling to find the skilled labor they need. Keep in mind, though, that these solutions still require some type of human involvement.
Other advancements that can help with workforce challenges are prefabrication and modular construction. More and more contractors are utilizing off-site operations to produce or assemble construction components. This can, for instance, help eliminate the number of people required to install the equipment on the jobsite.
How can contractors identify and evaluate the technologies available?
BANKS: The first step is to identify the specific business concern that needs to be addressed. This allows contractors to narrow down the options for consideration. The second step is to research technologies, including talking to other contractors who are using the solution themselves and to your insurance carrier. Involving the technology vendor in a pilot program may be a good opportunity to “test drive” the technology without making any significant financial investments upfront.
At Travelers, we take a test-and-learn approach to technology so that we can understand how each solution works on a jobsite. This allows us to identify any potential challenges and risks as well as the benefits it can deliver to a contractor. We can also learn if the technology doesn’t deliver on all of a vendor’s promises. We share what we’ve learned with our customers to help them make more informed decisions. In addition to using our input, customers should also test the technology themselves before investing fully to determine if it is the right solution for their needs.
Be sure you have the right structure in place within your organization to be able to adopt and support that technology once you’ve identified it. We’ve seen cases where companies have made the investment in a technology but don’t have the capacity to manage and act on all the data that comes along with it. It’s critical that you have buy-in across the organization in order to implement and manage this solution on a day-to-day basis.
For More Information:
For more about Travelers, visit www.travelers.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2022
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