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Wireless Technology in the Construction and Demolition Industry
An Interview with Matt Burkart, P.E.

Matt Burkart

The A10 Accredited Standards Committee is one of the oldest voluntary national consensus standards developing bodies in the U.S. It has existed continuously since 1931 and has members from all segments of the construction industry, with nearly 50 accredited standards and projects produced through its secretariats. ASSE became the secretariat of this committee in January 2003. The scope of the A10 ASC is “to write and interpret standards relating to the protection of employees and the public from hazards arising out of or associated with construction and demolition operations.

Use of such standards has increased in recent years. Historically, however, SH&E professionals have noted that while standards are useful, it can be difficult to consult them while on jobsites. Everything from inclement weather to storage capabilities can discourage the use of standards. Thanks to recent developments in wireless technology, however, jobsite access to consensus standards is now possible.

Construction is an ever-changing, dynamic enterprise. Keeping track of all construction activities--from the field, from the designer and home office, and of various subcontractors and suppliers can be daunting. These facts make the construction industry a prime candidate to use wireless technology to instantly transmit information. For example, revised plans can be transmitted wirelessly, as can updated schedules.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), through the Construction Institute (CI), recently formed a committee for Wireless Technology in Construction. The committee is chaired by Dr. Leonard Bernold, Director of the Center for Construction Technology & Integration, Department. of Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University; vice-chair is Judith Burkart, National Academy of Construction Safety (NACS). The committee’s goal is to provide a forum for discussing topics related to the wireless communication technology that is changing the way we construction activities are managed.

As a first step into this technology arena, ASSE, through its partnership with NACS, is providing A10 construction safety standards on memory chips for use with Construction Safety Messengers on the construction site. This will provide instant access to the standards and through the unit’s extended wireless capabilities, the standards can be viewed not only on the unit itself, but also on TV monitors, computer monitors and larger screens for viewing by an entire crew.

Pictures of the PDA
Figure #1 Figure #1

Electronic assistants are being used more and more throughout the industry with great success. A January 2004 article on Pocket PC Magazine's website (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/_archives/jan04/ent_inspectors.asp), "Utah Building Safety Inspectors Pack iPaqs", discusses how Utah building safety inspectors use electronic assistants to eliminate many inefficiencies inherent with paper copies of inspection results. Information gathered developed during inspections is saved into a scheduling database that now can be accessed at will; information can be added as corrections are accomplished.

This streamlined system enabled the city of Orem, UT, to more easily and completely inspect all construction sites within the city limits to ensure compliance with current safety codes. This encompassed nearly 9,000 inspections a year. Inspectors did not carry clipboards full of papers to various sites; instead they carried electronic assistants. In addition, information only needed to be entered once, thereby eliminating the chance for error. The inspector visited each site with all information needed. Nothing was lost, everything was recorded and inspection records were readily available and current, thanks to instant electronic transmission of materials.

By using available technology and expanding upon that technology, A10 standards will be directly available to those who most need to use them--those on jobsites. This opens the door to many construction practices and enhances efforts to keep a jobsite safe and efficient.

Through wireless technology, SH&E professionals can also have access on the jobsite to regulations, standards, audit forms, checklists, OSHA eTools, and toolbox talks in electronic format.

Matt Burkart, P.E., is a long-time member of A10 Committee and is a professional member of ASSE. He served as Chairman of the A10 Committee for 14 years and has been a member of the A10 Committee since 1969. He is working with ASSE on this initiative to further explore this project and its ramifications; ASSE’s Construction Practice Specialty (CPS) recently interviewed Burkart.

CPS: Explain how you see A10 standards currently being used on construction and demolition sites.

Burkart: A10 standards represent the consensus of the construction industry and reflect best practices to protect employees and the public. These standards are utilized when a procedure is new to the crew, if there are any questions about the operation, to provide a means of compliance with the OSHA regulations, as part of a tool box talk or just to refresh/retrain the crew on the current task. Keeping the standards available on the jobsite, while the best practice, has not always been practical. Standards have a way of being used and then developing legs and walking away, which then makes the standard useless for the next person with a question.

CPS: Provide some history on your firm and what it does.

Burkart: The National Academy of Construction Safety formed in 1985 for the express purpose of providing training and information to the construction industry and has developed and provided safety training for 20 years. We have also provided OSHA testimony, development of written content for various OSHA documents, as well as providing training to the US Navy Shipyard Department of Public Works, Phila., trenching and excavation course for a well-known mid-west electrical contractor for their employees at an Allentown, PA site, and have worked with a well-known steel erector in the state of Connecticut in helping him provide site specific planning for two jobsites. In this new era, NACS is making available web-based training.

CPS: Explain what wireless technology and some of its applications in safety.

Burkart: Wireless transmission of information is one of the fastest growing areas today in the technology section. The ability to send information via wireless cards for PDAs (personal digital assistants) opens up a whole spectrum of instant communication for construction.

The construction industry has for a significant period of time transmitted schedules, drawings, estimates, etc., through the internet/intranet. This transmission requires hard wires from a specific location. Recently, with the advent of wireless capabilities, these documents may be transmitted to and from even smaller jobsites or roving crews. UPS and FedEx has been using this technology for many years. You utilize this technology each time you sign for your package delivery.

Imagine having the ability to update the construction management program from the construction site, send immediate results of check lists, audit forms, etc., directly into home office to show compliance with contract documents, regulations, etc. Being able to receive safety talks, memos and notices, the Safety Messenger provides instant access to any number of tool box talks which can be coordinated with today's activities. Attendees can sign off on these talks as having attended. All of this information can be transmitted instantly to a secure file.

We are also able to provide huge documents, such as policy manuals, OSHA Regulations, A10 Standards, etc., on a memory chip, easily inserted into the PDA for access to all information needed to assure a compliant jobsite.

CPS: How widespread is the use of this technology on construction and demolition sites?

Burkart: Wireless capability is new technology and the opportunity for all construction firms, managers, contractors. It is just emerging as ready for use. This is not just for the larger sites -- smaller sites can and will benefit from this technology also by having their own wireless system. Coffee shops, shopping malls, airports and other areas offering wireless connections are becoming more and more easy to locate. Entire cities are providing wireless access. Philadelphia is planning to make its downtown area completely wireless.

Eventually, equipment, processes and activities can be monitored through wireless technology, providing information advising exactly how long a process took, what the process entailed, when equipment is in need of service, if equipment has been stressed or in some way compromised, etc. Contractors of all sizes will eventually have the ability to really know what the costs of construction really are. This should lead to more economical, safer and knowledgeable construction methods.

CPS: Explain how the technology works. What does it entail?

Burkart: What is needed is a medium priced PDA, with the ability to transmit and receive information wirelessly, a good set of information formatted for the PDA to provide access to forms, information, etc., such as that being developed for our Safety Messenger, and a wireless connection through either a public area or a private system. Even the ability to connect the cell phone to the PDA will work, although this is older and slower technology.

CPS: Discuss how having A10 standards on a wireless basis can be used to improve safety and health on construction and demolition sites.

Burkart: Easy! Nobody is going to carry around all 50 or so A10 standards for use on the site. They are bulky and utilizing this method can lead to loss of documents, or even making the documents unusable because of dirt, rain and jobsite conditions.

Having these documents on a PDA chip, with a rugged case designed to protect the unit itself from rain, snow, etc., makes it easy and quick to pull up the correct document, with the correct section to answer the question. This process can verify that whatever is going on at the jobsite is following these consensus standards which are intended to make the jobsite safer. The same is true for OSHA documents, or other regulations.

CPS: How would a SH&E professional on a construction demolition site use these standards?

Burkart: As indicated previously, the safety professional, as well as other designated individuals (competent persons, supervisors, superintendents, etc.) can through memory chips or through direct input of their own documents, assure that information is readily available in answer to any question of safety or procedure.

CPS: Provide a step-by-step walkthrough of a specific construction and demolitions issue/concern and how wireless access to an A10 standard can benefit the industry. For example, you are the liaison and a key contributor to the A10.8 standard on scaffolding. Provide an example of how a scaffolding issue can be addressed via wireless technology and the A10.8 standard:

Burkart: The competent person is required to inspect scaffolding each day before use as well as any time scaffolds are changed or moved. This competent person can retrieve a specific checklist for this procedure and walk through checking each procedure off as it is inspected. He may also hand write notes on the form.

The competent person can add comments verifying certain conditions or needs and when the list is complete will sign off, and "submit", sending the information wirelessly to home office with copies to any other offices or people needing to see this information. Once received, this information can then be kept on file digitally or in printed format, if so desired. The competent person may also have the OSHA regulations and A10.8 standard on his/her Safety Messenger for reference.

The scaffold may be inspected several times a day because of change in location, change in use, or because of any unusual condition (extreme loading of the planks, etc.) which may deem re-inspection necessary. By utilizing this wireless method, inspection results and verification of inspection is readily available through this system.

Scaffold users may have questions about operations and procedures and through the safety professionals on the job, superintendent, competent persons, etc., can instantly see what the standards and regulations say and base their actions on this information.

CPS: We often hear questions about how the A10 and OSHA CFR 1926 standards correlate. Can this equipment also be used to compare federal/state requirements with A10 standards?

Burkart: Yes. It is easy to compare OSHA standards and A10 standards, especially through the way we are formatting them, so that you can search for words, standard numbers, etc.

CPS: With regard to costs, can a construction and demolition user have access to all standards, some of them or just one or two? Are different packages and pricing available

Burkart: We can put all or just specific standards on these chips so that an individual firm or organization can have just what they need. For instance, an excavator may not have use for fall protection regulations, or roofing regulations.

CPS: How can ASSE and your organization work together to encourage more use of these standards on a wireless basis?

Burkart: We need to make this information available through an organization such as the ASSE that NACS has this type of capability and can provide even more than what is discussed here in terms of setting up their wireless system for the jobsite. Companies need to know that NACS can provide forms, tool box talks, etc., but also that we can take company specific information and forms and ready them for this wireless application. This means information received and sent wirelessly now fits seamlessly with their paper trail, augmenting this information quickly, easily and uniformly.

CPS: With this technology, can a user buy one copy of a standard, and then use that copy on different work sites:

Burkart: This information is purchased by a user and that user may utilize that information on any of his sites. What is not permitted is to copy and distribute this information, just as it is not permitted to do the same with paper or downloaded copies. We will always be happy to allow duplicate purchases for a standard so that various members of the company can have their own copy.

CPS: What about other standards? As an example, many SH&E professionals on construction and demolition sites use the ANSI/ASSE Z117.1-2003 standard for the covers confined space entry. Are standards such as these available for use with wireless devices as well?

Z117 Committee Information

Burkart: We can make any of the ASSE standards available for use on PDAs, as permitted by our agreement with the ASSE.

CPS: With respect to future developments, do you think wireless technology is a “must-have” on construction and demolition sites or will it simply be a nice benefit to have?

Burkart: I really think that although most contractors and constructors presently view this option as a nice benefit to have, they will soon discover that the ease of use and ability to provide safer, more economical sites will turn this technology into a "must have". It will be as indispensable as the wireless cell phone.

CPS: Thank you for your time today – anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Yes, we are grateful to the ASSE for their ability to recognize the value in this wireless technology technique and promote it through our being able to provide this information in a form usable on the PDA.