Technologies to Prevent Serious Injuries and Fatalities Related to Last-minute Work Changes

RT-382 Topic Summary
RT 382


Construction site safety is both unconditionally important and painfully confounding. Despite decades of research and the implementation of countless injury prevention strategies, serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) continue to plague the construction industry. Clearly, the industry needs to devote new efforts and continued attention to eliminating SIFs.

The pressure to perform work amid the complex and dynamic conditions on a construction site can magnify the possibility of making risky decisions during the performance of that work. In fact, past research has identified that last-minute change and improvisation are key precursors to SIFs, especially in stressful situations. One option for preventing SIFs due to last-minute changes is to look for applications of technology, which is increasingly being leveraged to improve construction, including with respect to safety.

CII organized and chartered Research Team 382 (RT-382) to investigate how technologies can be utilized to prevent and/or mitigate last-minute changes that could lead to serious injuries and fatalities. The team accomplished its work in three phases:

  1. The team began the project by conducting a comprehensive search for currently available technologies that could be used to prevent and/or mitigate a last-minute change, which the team defined as “an unexpected, unplanned, non-routine deviation in a condition, action, or process that occurs or manifests at the work face when there is limited time available to plan for and address the change.” Further study of changes to work processes and situational awareness gave the team insights into the capabilities and competencies that technologies would need to possess:
    • Monitor the work process.
    • Identify and comprehend the occurrence of a change.
    • Identify options for responding to the change.
    • Determine which option to choose.
    • Implement the chosen option.
The team’s efforts created a catalog that details the capabilities, features, and performance aspects for 40 available technologies. This catalog also evaluates the applicability of each technology to last-minute changes and its readiness for implementation in practice.
  1. RT-382 then investigated the relationship between last-minute changes and SIFs, and documented instances when technologies could be effectively implemented to mitigate last-minute changes. By evaluating approximately 180 fatality cases published within the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program, the team successfully characterized how last-minute changes are associated with fatality incidents on construction sites. Next, the team used the Delphi technique to gain consensus around the most potent factors, such as cost, ease-of-use, and resource demand.

    The team exposed two types of last-minute changes that were both particularly prevalent and potentially suitable for technology application:
    • Last-minute changes in the proximity of humans to equipment 
    • Last-minute changes in the planned work process
By using its knowledge and experience, the team members then evaluated multiple technologies relevant to these applications, to verify their ability to impact last-minute changes.
  1. The team used examples available in literature and the Delphi technique to capture team members’ collective knowledge and experience. Then the team developed a technology adoption protocol to help organizations decide whether to adopt each technology to mitigate last-minute changes. The protocol is supported by three levels of evaluation: a high-level preliminary evaluation, an assessment of the technology and its fit within an organization, and a field assessment of its applicability to last-minute changes. The team created detailed checklists for use at each step in the evaluation, and refined and verified these lists through multiple real-world technology assessments.

The study provided important findings that are relevant to both research and practice: 
  • Last-minute changes are a significant cause of many SIFs.
  • Mitigating the safety-related impacts of last-minute changes is a complex process.
  • Technologies can help humans performing the work and improve safety on jobsites when last-minute changes occur.
  • However, currently available technologies can only perform elements of the process for specific worksite conditions.
  • Technologies need to develop further before they can fully utilize the benefits of artificial intelligence to prevent SIFs due to last-minute changes.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Forty Current Technologies Might Mitigate Last-minute Changes to Prevent SIFs

RT-382 identified 40 currently available technologies that potentially are able to help mitigate last-minute changes to prevent SIFs. The technologies have a variety of capabilities and applications, and are at various stages of readiness for implementation (FR-382, p. 11).

The team organized these technologies into seven categories:

  1. Communications and Mobile Computing
  2. Sensing
  3. Visualization
  4. Monitoring
  5. Automation
  6. Site Control and Site Access
  7. Artificial Intelligence

Figure 1. Detail from the Technology Catalog

Reference: (FR-382)

2 : Relationship between Last-minute Changes and SIFs

By reviewing 179 cases reported in the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program, RT-382 exposed the connection between last-minute changes and SIFs. When a change was a factor in the fatality incident, approximately 71% of the changes could be classified as last-minute changes. For all the FACE cases reviewed, gravity and motion were the predominant types of energy that led to the fatality incident (FR-382, p. 26):

Reference: (FR-382)

3 : Opportunities to Eliminate SIFs Caused by Last-minute Changes

RT-382’s analysis of NIOSH FACE cases revealed that the most common types of last-minute changes associated with SIF incidents were related to equipment usage, the work process, and worker/equipment path. These results suggest that two types of technologies could have a significantly positive impact on preventing SIFs (FR-382, p. 28):

  • Technologies that detect and mitigate hazardous last-minute changes in human-equipment proximity.
  • Technologies that detect and mitigate last-minute changes in the planned work process.
Reference: (FR-382)

4 : The Ability of Current Technologies to Mitigate Last-minute Changes

RT-382’s in-depth study of technology capabilities and the skills and competencies required in the face of last-minute changes enabled the team to map the technologies to the cognitive process that workers must take when a last-minute change occurs. The process included the following steps:

  • Monitoring the work process and conditions
  • Identifying that a change has occurred and comprehending what it was
  • Determining options for responding to the change
  • Selecting the best option
  • Deciding to implement that option
  • Implementing the selected option.

The team’s analysis revealed the limitations of current technologies in fulfilling all of these skills and competencies (FR-382, p. 55).

Table 1. Ability of Technologies to Perform Situational Awareness Requirements for Mitigating Last-minute Changes
Reference: (FR-382)

5 : Technology Adoption Protocol for Last-minute Changes

Technology adoption protocols help an organization decide whether to adopt a technology. After using an extensive literature review and the Delphi technique to gain consensus, RT-382 developed a process to aid the decision whether to adopt a technology for mitigating last-minute changes, along with guiding which of the adoption factors to consider (FR-382, p. 50). The process involves three steps:

  1. A high-level preliminary assessment
  2. A detailed assessment of organizational, individual, external, technology, and vendor implications
  3. A field assessment to certify the technology’s positive impact on last-minute changes