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The potential of compliance automation technology to improve safety in construction

14/12/2022

The HSE, Safetytech Accelerator, UK construction and engineering company Costain Group plc and UK compliance automation firm AuditComply, recently piloted compliance automation technology in a construction setting. Stakeholders from the companies spoke about their experience in a webinar.

Dr. Maurizio Pilu, Managing Director of Safetytech Accelerator, moderated the panel discussion. Safetytech Accelerator, established by Lloyd’s Register, are the first fully dedicated technology accelerator focused on safety and risk in industrial sectors.

The construction industry accounts for 30% of all occupational fatalities worldwide and UK government agency Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is enthusiastic about new technologies that could identify and manage risks.

HSE senior scientist Steven Naylor, who is also the Technical Lead for the agency’s Discovering Safety programme. Mr Naylor disclosed that since 2017, the agency has issued a total of 33,287 notices regarding safety compliance. The construction industry accounted for 10,126, or nearly a third of these notices. Over the same period, there has been a yearly average of 36 fatalities in the UK’s construction industry.

Naylor said, “Some of the biggest regulatory challenges are working at height, construction design, management regulations and provision or use of work equipment.”

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, drones and Internet of Things are some of the industrial safety technologies that could be deployed to identify risks in construction work.

Naylor continued, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. So what can we do differently to measure health and safety performance on projects better, and break through the performance plateaus we’ve seen in the UK?”

Construction fatalities have plateaued in the past decade, after falling 50% in the first decade of the 21st century.

Naylor explained, “Trialling and adoption of industrial safety technology offers the potential to manage health and safety risks on construction projects better, particularly in relation to the assurance of frontline work and the checking and monitoring that risk controls are operating as intended.”

Costain’s group process safety director, Richard Roff, introduced the pilot with AuditComply, first describing the process Costain went through with Safetytech Accelerator, which led to the  identification of the automated compliance challenge focused on shortcuts on  “method statements”.

Method statements are essentially statements of the steps to be carried out to complete certain tasks and jobs.  In the field, however, workers may take “shortcuts”, in most cases in good faith but potentially putting themselves and others at risk.

Roff said, “What people usually do before getting into the field is make it easy for themselves. So if we make it difficult for them… we should not be surprised if they don’t comply. Some of the time, when people don’t do what we thought they were going to do, it’s because what we thought wasn’t necessarily the best, simplest, easiest, or even safest way to do things.”

Roff said that companies such Costain handle thousands of these method statements. Volume, as well as the skills required to analyse them, is a challenge for industry.  Technology that could help detect likely problems with method statements would allow for better training and management, but also to revise method statements that workers don’t find useful or practical anymore.

Costain’s Safety Health and Environment (SHE) strategy director, Lawrence Webb, emphasised the importance of human factors:  He said, “Workers may have already found quicker and easier ways based on experience [to carry out a certain task],” implying that the benefits of detecting and understanding shortcuts have dividends beyond just safety.

Roff added that, “The sheer number of tasks is large, so in industries when we do the same thing every day …..the ability to zoom in to the stuff that really needs attention, is potentially quite efficiency-saving but it’s also a safety improvement.”

This is what the pilot with AuditComply tried to address and all participants agreed that it has been successful in proving the potential of compliance automation for solving these challenges.

AuditComply CEO Kevin Donaghy said of the pilot: “What we learnt from this process is that we had to work with the industry experts, coupled with understanding their risks, and understand how to capture them into a model, and then be able to screen and compare [method statements] against that.”

Dr. Pilu shifted the discussion on the broader aspect of increasing the use of these powerful technologies and the changes they could promote in industry.

Donaghy stated that while currently industry tend to use static, text-based data such as method statements, the big opportunity ahead is connecting real-life audit discovery to risk registers, identifying real-time risks, automating action plans and generating detailed risk reports.

As a case in point, Donaghy recounted that while he was working on this pilot, his team, using artificial intelligence, identified hidden risks and shortcuts within existing method statements but to have an impact these findings should be notified to the business to rectify the risks here and now.

Drawing on his experience in other sectors, he explained that developing these systems will be a journey for most organisations: “When a large organisation decides to implement a new policy, a process, and it has to be propagated across the globe, that’s the real challenge.”

“Technology on its own is not going to solve all problems. I absolutely believe that technology, coupled with the industry experts are the key to this, because they’re involved in the new risks every single day. Systems need not always pick up the risks. The human part, coupled with the systems, is going to be that part of the process.”

Roff agreed that there is far wider potential, given the myriad procedures in construction work, saying that technology such as real-time automated compliance could help bring risks to business owners’ attention.

Naylor, offering his view on the outlook from the regulator’s perspective, added that the HSE’s Discovering Safety programme aspires to help the regulator and industry to use data to support health and safety decision-making,  acknowledging that technology will play a big role in this context.

He said, “There’s technology out there that can change the way we assure risk controls. So rather than it being the case of looking at what should be done…we can look to harness technology to assess how works are carried out, potentially in real time. But making that transition is a step-by-step process that needs to be taken … it’s all about supporting organisations in taking those steps to a better way of practicing health and safety.”

One a final note, Donaghy said, “The more we can marry platforms [such as ours] with data, the more we’d be closing the gap between when we know of a potential issue and notifying the client. If we can close that gap, then we can have a concept of real-time management of a risk.”

FIND OUT MORE:

You can watch the full recorded webinar here: https://safetytechaccelerator.org/events/webinar-potential-of-compliance-automation-technology-improve-safety-in-construction/

Read more about Safetytech Accelerator’s work with the HSE and Discovering Safety here: https://safetytechaccelerator.org/tag/discovering-safety/

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