AR and Safety on the Job Site

BY MEREDITH ZOHAR, Chief Product Officer at Spectar

Augmented Reality and Safety on the Job Site

Each day in the United States almost 6.5 million people work on about 252,000 construction sites. Compared to other industries, construction has a higher fatal injury rate due to the various potential hazards at job sites; one of five worker deaths happens in construction. Workers in construction are at risk for falls, and falls from heights, trench collapse, scaffold collapse, electric shock, being struck by an object, and repetitive motion injuries. Annually one out of every ten construction workers is injured on the job site. 

With the introduction of new innovations in construction it is important to address the safety concerns that might be associated with these new technologies since safety is a top priority for any job site. Augmented reality (AR), which blends the ‘real’ world with digital renderings, is being adopted by construction contractors to increase productivity, enhance employee training and safety, and make complex plans more efficient to build. The issue of how to use AR safely in the field must be addressed. 

Just as companies set up a Security Policy or “Bring Your Own Device” policy, contractors will need to set up an AR Safety Policy for all of the workers who use the devices on the job site. Any Hololens (or other AR device) Safety Policy would likely include questions such as: Am I going to trip over something? Will the weight of the Hololens affect my health? Hololens user safety guidelines can be broken down to where are workers using AR and how are they using AR.  

First off, where construction workers are using AR can create spatial risk. Can workers use AR safely on the job site at the edge of an open floor? One aspect to address in planning is to not require users to walk backwards on the job site when using the Hololens, and to keep the area clear that is being worked on with AR. The danger of tripping, bumping into objects, or falling off of ledges is much higher if users are compelled to move backwards while building with AR or the area is cluttered. Presently, workers use AR in construction by building AR projections onto real world structures, and the plans are unlikely to require moving backwards significantly.

AR users can also become very immersed in the experience. If a user is focusing their attention on the digital projections and ignoring the real world surroundings safety concerns could arise. Users can trip or bump into objects around them. To prevent this, the plans being projected should direct the user’s attention to reference real world objects, which is exactly how building with AR is currently practiced, or the transparency settings can be altered on the device. Another way to proactively address safety is to  use the model data to call out a safety concern. BIM teams can add content to the model that directs attention to an area or warns them of a potential issue.

Some are concerned that using AR can produce eye and weight fatigue if used for extended periods of time. Any user fatigue that can occur is likely occupation specific, and has not been documented in regards to AR use in construction. 

Recommendation Summary

Some recommendations when building your AR Safety Policy:

- Awareness: Always be aware of your surroundings. 
- Clear: Keep working areas clear to avoid potential trips, falls, or other hazards
- Training: Ensure that users are trained on all aspects of the device including features such as transparency settings.
- Model: add safety content into the model. 

While there are some new safety concerns introduced with AR devices, AR also has the potential to improve safety. A HoloLens device could potentially be used to alert a worker that they are coming to the edge of the building or a set of stairs. More optimized teams on the job site can reduce safety risks by having fewer people in areas of risk. It is also possible that AR devices will be able to collect data that will be able to help improve safety on the job site in the future. 

There are always safety concerns associated with trying out new innovations, workflows, and hardware. These concerns can be addressed with the right planning, training, and following the requirements already in place for conventional work.