Construction News

Mon May 27 2019

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Remote site police software sparks industry outcry

29 Apr Our report last week on the advent of technology that uses Computer Vision (CV) systems to monitor site safety and productivity has sparked a lively debate on social media, with most comments firmly opposed to the development.

Software detects PPE compliance
Software detects PPE compliance

Most said it would act to damage safety culture although some consider the inexorable march of such technology to be unstoppable.

We reported that Lithuanian software company Agmis was developed software for use with CV systems that can detect if anyone on site is not wearing a hard hat or goggles and analyse job site activities and movements of people and materials.

If the software detects a violation, it can alert the site safety officer in real time, we reported. [See our original report here.]

Infringements are stored in a database with corresponding video footage. This data can be used for safety violation investigations and serve as preventative measures for better future compliance, Agmis says.

Our report created quite a stir among construction health & safety professionals on LinkedIn.

Richard Brookes, head of safety and assurance at Babcock International, said: “What a great tool to drive disengagement and erode the basic fundamental to successful people management, namely trust. I’m always amazed at how we set the system to a no trust default. So we hire smart people, expert engineers and construction teams. Put them to work and watch for the inevitable mistake using a binary computer that can’t understand human complexity of how work gets done. All in the name of compliance and not asking people what they need to be successful in normal work.”

HSQE director Simon Bown said: “Oh wow, bang goes any trust from the front line when using one of these. I can’t believe that this would be considered for ‘compliance’ and then most probably discipline the violators! Engage with the workforce and maybe use it to learn from normal work? Now that would be a way to improve safety and get something out of this piece of kit.”

Subsea 7 senior HSE advisor John Evans said: “If you feel you need to buy this software then your safety system failed long ago.”

Construction safety consultant Mick Norton said: “This is another means to demonstrate that so many out there policing safety are bereft testicular fortitude and cannot challenge health and safety breaches at the coal face.  Is this a genuine attempt to improve safety or another technological means of guaranteeing that certain health and safety professionals will spend even more time behind a laptop in their office and in so doing totally alienate the workers?” 

Helen Rawlinson said: “Oh good gracious, technological advancement has brought us... electronic policing for use of PPE?! So much for the pragmatic approach. This is a terrible idea for creating any sort of no blame environment (where there is an appreciation that variance exists to get the job done and where we listen to people to understand where they need resources and support!). I worry that this sort of software will undo a lot of the advancement made in the industry where we invest in employees on a construction site, anyone who has ever worked on one knows how difficult it is to build and maintain trust, this could break it entirely.”

She added: “I like the idea of tracking routes for understanding where best to lay materials etc, but as if this system will be used for anything but jabbing a finger at someone should they waiver from the pedestrian routes.”

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Several posts made mention of George Orwell and Big Brother.

“Nightmare for invasion of privacy of the average construction worker. Personally think it’s too much,” said Karl Tindale.

“No different than normal CCTV,” replied Allan Wood from Russells Construction.

“Love this idea. Bit big brother though but what is a life worth?” said Andrew Hall

Jon Illman said: “Technology is there to improve things in principle, why use a spade when you can use a mechanical digger? In my opinion it’s how it is used. Our calls at work are recorded, I haven't heard a single case of someone being reprimanded for saying the wrong thing but I have heard many cases of how we can improve.”

Notify Technology CEO Duncan Davies said: “As a technologist this stuff is really interesting because it shows what ‘can’ be done. There’s loads going on with Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things that could help with workplace safety. The challenge is balancing this with an appreciation that these tools have to actually be useful, and work in parallel with cultural initiatives, training, and strong organisational leadership. Across Health, Safety and Wellbeing the tech is only as good as the employee engagement it drives, and the insights it provides.”

There were suggestions that, however bad an idea remote policing might be, insurance companies could eventually demand it.

James Pomeroy, group health, safety, environment and security director at Lloyd's Register, said: “Certainly not the best example showcasing the potential of Safety Tech and the criticisms are spot-on. That said, Safety Tech has huge potential to transform how we keep workers safe. The ability of IoT networked devices formed of Smart PPE, sensors on motive plant, drones, wearables garments and AI to protect, alert and manage complex and high-risk work in real-time, will provide unparalleled ways to manage complex risks and record actual exposure levels.

“As these posts highlight, we have yet to think through how we engage with employees on the appropriate deployment of Safety Tech and what’s in it for them. We can see this in language currently being used around Safety Tech, such as ‘control, monitor and compliance’. We also need to think ahead about how the information gathered, secured and potentially used post-incident. The only certainty at this point, is that this technology is coming and we need to starting thinking about the appropriate use.”

Construction safety consultant Christopher Penny said: “That’s fine – so long as there’s a camera in the office linked to a screen on site showing how hard the managers are working.”

An alternative, less remote, option for high tech site policing...?
An alternative, less remote, option for high tech site policing...?

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