June 6, 2012
Remote sensing technology aims to increase construction safety
Researchers in Calgary have developed a new tool to improve safety on construction sites, using remote sensing technology and tracking tags to monitor movement in real time.
Farnaz Sadeghpour, University of Calgary professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, and graduate student Reza Maalek are using ultra wide-band (UWB) radio technology to develop a new system to help reduce workplace accidents, impede theft, and keep tabs on objects.
The system works by tagging important items, tools, people or materials, or “anything you wanted to track,” Sadeghpour explains.
Then tag readers, or transceivers, are placed in the corners of the areas you want to monitor, which records each tag’s whereabouts.
As it stands right now, the system is for indoor-use only.
“Think of it as GPS for outdoors,” the professor jokes. “We’re adapting the technology for construction and finding applications for it.”
Research shows that a lot of things get lost on construction sites, she said.
“About 25 per cent of workers’ time on site is spent looking for things,” Sadeghpour explains.
One part of the research was to assess the accuracy of the devices, because UWB technology wasn’t developed for conditions on construction sites, Sadeghpour says, adding that it was originally developed for tracking inventory.
“We wanted to see how well the tags and transceivers worked, to test their range and reliability, how accurate they are and what the frequency of error is.”
Starting out with simple conditions, in the civil engineering lab, the two researchers put the system through its paces and then processed the data.
For the future, Sadeghpour and Maalek have been working on enabling the system to trigger alarms when someone or something gets too close to an edge, or a “red zone.”
“We have red zones tagged in the system, which are not taped off physically because that could change every day on a construction site,” Sadeghpour says.
“We can put “red tape,” or virtual red zones into the scenario and as soon as somebody gets too close or enters into that zone, we can send out an alarm.” That alarm could come in the form of a phone call, a text, an announcement or a notice on a website, depending on the construction site.
The technology allows for people off-site to be able to remotely monitor what’s going on.
“A safety officer or a supervisor doesn’t have to be on site, if they’re at another location, they could still see.”
Another use for the technology is to reduce the number of and frequency of workplace accidents.
“We’re hoping the system will prevent that,” Sadeghpour says.
“Most construction accidents happen because of workers clashing with equipment and people or objects falling off edges. Our system will address both.”
Last year, there were 21 construction-related fatalities in Alberta, where a worker died on site or as a result of injuries sustained at a work site, and investigated by Occupational Health and Safety (OHS).
According OHS, there has been one construction-related workplace fatality investigated by the Workers Compensation Board in the province since January 2012.
Another scenario, all too familiar to Calgarians, is that of falling debris from construction sites.
In 2009, a sheet of corrugated steel fell from an office tower in the downtown, killing a child.
Sadeghpour’s tracking system would help ensure materials are kept a safe distance away from danger zones like open areas, and prevent materials from being placed too close to edges where they could fall.
“Debris in the danger zones, if it started moving slowly, that would set off an alarm,” she said.
Other applications for the technology down the road, could be for monitoring not just workplace safety, but workplace theft as well.
“If something suddenly found legs, we could set off the alarm,” Sadeghpour says.
The civil engineering professor’s interest has always lay in construction safety, and when ultra-wide band technology came out, she was backed by the industry and the Calgary Construction Association in developing this UWB system.
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