Enhancing safety and productivity on design-build projects

by arslan_ahmed | March 10, 2023 4:28 pm

Photos courtesy Axis Communications.

By Jason Chiu

Architects, engineers, and specifiers design and oversee the build of world class commercial and residential buildings and infrastructures. There are several phases to the lifecycle of their building projects that should be overseen, not only in the design but also for on-site delivery. They are key professionals who have a responsibility to manage their projects’ construction sites. As for a project work site, there are three considerations: intrusion, interruption, and injury; and these are also the three most common threats to productivity, profitability, and employee welfare. Risk management is essential to all aspects of the architectural vision and building construction phase. Essentially, these two worlds need to meet—from design to build.

Whether it is required training through industry associations, or compliance through the Ministry of Labour, or part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), in every province, architects, engineers, and specifiers are required to take site safety training. In fact, as professionals and employers, they all play an extensive role in site development, collaborating with the site managers and contractors, and being present on-site during safety inspections. When conducting inspections, they provide instructions in both site safety, site operational efficiency, and will review contractor submissions to ensure compliance and productivity. It is important to note, site safety should never take a backseat to operational facility and productivity.

Most workers on-site feel their health and safety is not prioritized as much as their productivity. According to Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), 67 per cent believe standards for productivity are higher than those of safety.1 The National Safety Council (NSC) found 51 per cent also believe management and project leaders only do the minimum to keep employees safe; another 47 per cent are afraid to report safety issues.2

 Safety compliance leads to higher productivity levels

Leaders in design and planning must ensure their buildings meet all standards, and for this reason, they should work closely with public health and safety experts during both the design and construction stage. Site safety is a key component in operational efficiency. To be truly productive on site, safety must be prioritized. Solutions offered by architects and engineers are flexible and easily deployable surveillance that facilitates high-quality remote supervision to help minimize security and safety issues, as well as contribute to worker well-being and operations efficiency. This includes assisting in health and safety monitoring and incident investigation, and protecting project sites from unauthorized access, vandalism, and theft of materials, tools, and machinery. Also, with smart surveillance solutions, architect project sites can meet their daily requirements of running an agile, collaborative, and reliable site without compromising safety.

The Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO) found when firms invest just 2.5 per cent of project costs into safety training and procedures, profits increase by four to seven per cent per project and accident rates decrease. Comparing the cost of safety program at 2.5 per cent to workplace injuries at six to nine per cent of project costs—the numbers for safety training are much more favourable.3

There are various security and surveillance solutions offering a range of options to help workers on-site stay safe. Monitoring contractor activities in real-time from a local or remote central control station can be done with video cameras; and intelligent analytics contribute to a range of automated safety functions. Something like a remote central surveillance command centre is beneficial for reviewing actual footage from across a jobsite. It gives architects a chance to be in the building, at their office, and still see what is occurring on-site. If they wanted to inspect something on site, this takes time and in turn affects their productivity; however, with enabling technologies, they can check on something without having to go there.

Then there are solutions such as cross-line detection software, combined with network speakers to alert workers who get too close to hazardous or unsafe zones. Camera analytics also deliver PPE (personal protective equipment) detection and person-down alarms for improving lone worker safety. Two-way audio components let managers communicate directly with the work crew to ensure health and safety compliance. In winter, the colder weather introduces a whole new suit of potential dangers, such as slips, trips and falls, cold stress, decreased dexterity, and other cold related injuries.

,Figure 1 Construction worker operating an all-in-one video and access control management system.

Related technologies such as access control systems (Figure 1) can also be leveraged to restrict access to only qualified personnel. For example, a worker may not be able to access parts of a building or a construction site if their access control profile (and by extension their access card) does not have the right attributes to match the training required to be in a particular area or zone (e.g. confined space, working at heights training).

In 2018, It was estimated building project sites suffer a loss of more than $46 million a year due to vandalism and theft.4 This number has gone up since, and deployable surveillance ensures a site is adequately monitored and allows architects, engineers, and site managers to be connected to security and access control systems in real-time. This makes it possible to identify bad actors and suspect activity before intrusion, as well as visually verify what is happening before taking action to prevent damages and subsequent losses.

There are scenarios which can result in the architect/engineer or a manager/company being faulted. Connected surveillance solutions can also lend itself to post-incident investigation and can identify where an unsafe or site situation occurred. This way architects on-site can take measures with proper signage, protective barriers, or increased surveillance mechanisms, such as audio warnings. Integrating smart surveillance systems along with secure access systems will keep workers and equipment safe, potentially saving lives and money at the same time.

Having audio and mass notification in place

When large projects can involve more than 700 workers being on-site at any given moment, safety solutions must be able to effectively signal an emergency and instruct personnel to evacuate the site if needed. In the event of an emergency, whether it be a gas leak, first-aid scenario, or a major incident, surveillance should include a system which allows workers on-site to press an emergency button which engages all cameras, and all audio speakers or horns to instruct personnel to evacuate. This ensures they can evacuate safely and quickly.

Naturally, construction sites can get really loud. Audibility can pose a challenge, due to the acoustical properties of certain construction materials, high-volume activities such as welding and sawing, and the use of PPE. Some projects may make do with air horns which can notify workers all at once, but other projects may consistently output noise which outdoes the air horns. The last thing a site manager wants during an emergency is to announce the crisis through audio cues that workers are unable to hear.

On the high end of surveillance systems, companies will provide integrated network speakers, which are essentially loudspeakers designed for outdoor operations and provide clear, long-range speech and sound. Audio can be heard clearly across entire job sites, regardless of PPE use, and all personnel can be simultaneously notified of any emergencies. Surveillance systems with integrated speakers can broadcast to all units simultaneously, or individually as necessary. Pre-recorded messages, live audio, or recorded sounds, such as air-raid sirens for maximum attention-grabbing effect, can be played manually or automatically, depending on predefined triggers. Beyond emergencies, these robust systems can function as general public address systems for announcements.

Compact, high-quality surveillance body cameras are becoming increasingly common for more than just liability purposes.

Averting risk and emergencies with solid management

Smart surveillance solutions can prove invaluable during emergency situations. Since architects, engineers, and specifiers must also adhere to all public and on-site worker health and safety ordinances, they should play a role in helping their on-site team evaluate the type, scope, and severity of an emergency, and keep track of the number of workers in each area of a facility. They can assess and help in safe and prepared evacuation, for example creating a plan of action for smoke detection, planning, and tracking the flow of evacuation through the building site and even supporting rescue teams. With today’s modern surveillance technologies, management is heightened with the ability to identify risks in real-time and take immediate steps to mitigate them. Connected cameras and solutions such as network audio and intelligent analytics allow architects to configure systems to spot dangerous zones, equipment, and behaviours and address general contractors directly.

Improving health and safety practices from the start

Architects and engineers need to be future-focused and safety planning begins at the outset. Not only should their designs be constructed with their design plans and specifications, but they also need to be present during safety inspections. They should provide site instructions, periodic construction site inspections, and even review contractor and site manager submissions for safety compliance; but to help in this process, to identify hazards and unsafe situations or practices in real-time, surveillance solutions can truly aid to improve policies for delivering more of a proactive approach to avoid potential future issues.

Workplace incidents, injuries, and near misses can be reviewed in detail via video footage, to ensure they are analyzed and recorded in an accurate and unbiased way. This will help everyone on-site understand their root causes and develop safety protocols to address them.

Video footage can also be an excellent training resource. Showing employees situations where they may have endangered themselves can be a persuasive tool for fostering safer behaviour.

Minimizing safety issues to minimize downtime and boost productivity

These solutions are also minimizing downtime and boosting productivity by detecting and verifying potential problems. Integrating high-level surveillance systems affords site managers another level of transparency when overseeing operations. A surveillance system can be the eyes of a site manager, as they use connected technologies to visually inspect and verify processes, monitor efficiency, and grant maintenance staff remote assistance as necessary. Surveillance can also function as data collection or assist in planning predictive maintenance. A well-optimized system will minimize downtime while increasing productivity.

Agile incident management

In the event of an incident, surveillance cameras enable site managers to rapidly detect, assess, and respond to site incidents as they occur and develop. A thermal camera, for example, can be used to monitor equipment and generate alarms on potentially dangerous temperature variances, or traditional high-quality cameras can be aimed at equipment or indicators, monitoring them for leaks or irregularities. Alerts can even be triggered automatically through analytics, with high-definition feeds being pushed to relevant staff instantaneously. Data from surveillance systems helps apply agile principles to handling incidents, as data is immediately available and ready to help site managers evaluate situations and risk levels, as they work to minimize disruption and keep workers safe. Pushing these monitoring responsibilities to analytics instead of relying on human detection can also alert immediately when something occurs, saving precious seconds and possibly lives in the event of a critical incident.

Trend monitoring and predictive maintenance

Data is the name of the game. The more an architect, engineer, or site manager knows about their site, the more they can act when it comes to keeping areas and personnel secure and safe. High level surveillance systems can utilize built-in intelligence to collect data over long periods of time to identify trends and plan servicing schedules. This can be particularly useful for equipment or locations on construction sites which are difficult to access, whereas thermal and visual cameras can provide basic monitoring and advanced data collection and analysis. This can also offer insights into how much foot traffic certain areas receive, how often certain equipment is used, and so on.

Leveraging wearables for worker safety

An emerging trend in construction site safety is wearable technology. Compact, high-quality surveillance body cameras are becoming increasingly common for more than just liability purposes. Beyond capturing footage of accidents or equipment failure requiring legal documentation, wearable cameras can enhance the safety of any site, and the footage can also be used for learning and teaching opportunities when it comes to safety, procedures, and best practices.

Figure 2 Wearable cameras can enhance the safety of any site, and the footage can also be used for learning and teaching opportunities.

Wearable cameras (Figure 2) can also provide location tracking and a two-minute buffer for recording to capture events before a worker presses record. Long battery and on-the-go charging capabilities maximize convenience and safety for personnel, while providing as much information as possible for site managers. Wearable surveillance cameras are robust, water-resistant, and can easily mount to different types of clothing.



What advanced surveillance equipment means for site managers

Choosing to secure a construction site with high-quality, networked surveillance systems provides numerous benefits, from safety, to convenience, to savings. Knowing where everyone is located on the site at any given time simplifies operations while enhancing safety procedures, and the ability to mass-notify staff in the event of an emergency or other incident is similarly invaluable.

Increased safety leads to increased productivity, which equates to faster project timelines and lower costs for the building site. Surveillance systems deter vandalism and theft, which can both disrupt operations and leave construction projects in a limbo if they are unable to replace or repair materials or equipment, respectively. The versatility of modern networked surveillance systems enables infinite customization which can adapt to the needs of any construction site, further improving the conditions for all who work there and visit for maintenance or deliveries.

However, with all these benefits, there also new considerations surrounding cybersecurity which must be understood and addressed to keep the site surveillance secure and serving only the building team.

Surveillance devices need to be “hardened,” which means doing whatever possible to prevent unauthorized access to the system.

The importance of cybersecurity

From a network perspective, networked surveillance devices are similar to desktops, laptops, or smartphones when it comes to vulnerabilities. Although network surveillance cameras cannot visit dangerous websites, download untrusted software, or be tricked through email attachments containing viruses, there are still ways in which they can be exposed and taken advantage of by malicious actors. The last thing a site manager wants to deal with is their newly secured, monitored site to be compromised and have sensitive data and personal information held ransom. Surveillance systems may aid in preventing vandalism or theft, but a malicious party gaining access to surveillance systems could do even more damage. They could gain access to hours of footage, which they could use to gain entry to the construction site, through knowledge of the movements of security personnel throughout the day, for example.

To prevent this, a network of surveillance devices needs to be “hardened,” which means doing whatever possible to prevent unauthorized access to the system. There are physical measures which can be taken to secure a network, involving anti-sabotage, -vandalism, and -tampering technologies and designs which prevent physical hijacking of network devices. It is also important to protect all network cables, and ensure devices are mounted properly, as these can both be points of entry for malicious actors.

Physical security is just one aspect of protecting a network of surveillance devices. There are extensive measures which can and should be taken on the technical level which will harden the security infrastructure of a construction site to provide maximum protection against outside sources. Providers of network surveillance systems will typically offer security notifications which detail known issues and vulnerabilities, and offer consistent software updates to address evolving security concerns. Access to surveillance records and live footage should be restricted to specific individuals with the necessary security clearance, and access should be allowed through specific, vetted devices and networks to prevent unintended users gaining access. Other practices, such as sanitary decommissioning of old devices through factory resets to prevent credentials and other configuration remaining in the device, limiting web interface access, or completely disabling it, and encrypting video footage as it is stored, are also beneficial when it comes to increasing cybersecurity.

Although new risks emerge using networked surveillance systems, the benefits to safety, productivity, savings, and convenience make the effort worthwhile. It is important to work with the surveillance provider to ensure devices are kept secure and up to date, and the site runs at peak efficiency. Above all else, the safety of the workers and the site is paramount to success, and surveillance systems are a major contributor to their well-being.


1 Read this article on construction site safety, www.ehstoday.com/construction/article/21919029/58-percent-of-construction-workers-say-safety-takes-a-backseat-to-productivity[6].

2 Visit the National Safety Council (NSC) at www.nsc.org[7].

3 Access this report on improving safety by visiting elcosh.org/document/1452/d000505/improving-safety-can-save-you-money.html[8].

4 Learn more about theft and vandalism on construction sites at www.aviva.ca/en/business/blog/theft-and-vandalism-on-construction-sites[9].


Jason Chiu is the professional services group manager with Axis Canada. He has a background in IT and networking and has spent more than 15 years in the security industry, being an integrator, consultant, and manufacturer.

  1. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/MicrosoftTeams-image-13.jpg
  2. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/MicrosoftTeams-image-11.jpg
  3. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/w101_maintenance_worker_adjusting_gauge_01_2112_hi.jpg
  4. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/w101_contractor_worker_adjusting_gauge_02_2112_hi.jpg
  5. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/bigstock-Security-Cctv-Camera-Or-Survei-459280515.jpg
  6. www.ehstoday.com/construction/article/21919029/58-percent-of-construction-workers-say-safety-takes-a-backseat-to-productivity: https://www.ehstoday.com/construction/article/21919029/58-percent-of-construction-workers-say-safety-takes-a-backseat-to-productivity
  7. www.nsc.org: https://www.nsc.org/
  8. elcosh.org/document/1452/d000505/improving-safety-can-save-you-money.html: https://elcosh.org/document/1452/d000505/improving-safety-can-save-you-money.html
  9. www.aviva.ca/en/business/blog/theft-and-vandalism-on-construction-sites: https://www.aviva.ca/en/business/blog/theft-and-vandalism-on-construction-sites/
  10. [Image]: https://www.constructioncanada.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Chiu_Headshot_reduced.jpg

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