The potential of geofencing in delivering major infrastructure projects – New Civil Engineer

14 Sep, 2022 By Leo Scott Smith
Network Rail’s trialing of geofencing to improve safety of trackworkers raised the profile of the technique recently but there are other potential benefits for the construction industry beyond safety.

Leo Scott Smith is chief executive at Tended
A geofence is a virtual perimeter, similar to a physical barrier but is instead defined by digital coordinates. The virtual lines that join each of these coordinates are combined to create a digital representation of a physical boundary. It removes the need for physical barriers to fence off hazardous areas, making projects much quicker to set up.
Geofencing technology gives contractors greater visibility of their worksites. Devices worn by people or attached to equipment can communicate with geofencing software to provide real-time information on who or what has entered or left a geofenced area, as well as other details, including device altitude, time spent in the area, position, speed of movement, etc.
When entering or leaving a geofence zone, alerts can be triggered on associated devices and external notifications sent to notify managers of particular actions so that they can take immediate action.
There are many different ways that geofencing can be used across projects, both during planning and project execution. Specific areas include:
Heavy plant, machinery and equipment can be fitted with tags that send out a notification if they leave a geofenced zone, giving managers time to disable the equipment to prevent theft or alert the authorities of a theft taking place.
Improving the security of expensive assets helps to reduce costs associated with theft and also the time and monetary costs that come with equipment replacement. According to a study by Herts Tool Company, £17.5M worth of tools were stolen in London alone in 2020.
While the theft itself has significant cost implications, there are also subsequent costs, including project delays and rectification of any site damage caused during the theft. At a time of rising material costs and increasing market uncertainty, companies of all sizes can be affected by theft and some may not have the financial means to survive.
Improving site security and preventing project theft with the use of geofencing not only helps to reduce these costs but also helps to keep projects on schedule.
Material visibility
Using geofencing, managers can be alerted in real-time of the delivery of materials to a work site. Knowing exactly when a site delivery is made allows for better onsite planning and reduced waiting time.
Materials can be monitored when they are delivered and stored, allowing for better site visibility, efficiency and less time spent idle. This enables better management of deliveries and gives contractors greater control over material allocation.
Infrastructure and construction projects have among the highest injury and fatality rates in the UK. According to HSE, 39 people were fatally injured in 2021 and an average of 61,000 people suffered non-fatal injuries each year since 2018.
Geofencing can significantly improve site safety as it can allow for unsafe areas to be mapped digitally, alerting workers if they come too close to hazardous areas, such as moving plant, material deliveries, site grading and tipping areas.
One organisation pioneering the use of geofencing to improve worksite safety is tech company Tended. Their solution allows contractors to easily define safe and unsafe zones during the planning phase of construction projects with designated safe access points. A small device is worn by workers, capable of positioning them to 14mm accuracy, that alerts them if they leave a safe zone or enter an unsafe zone, helping them to regain situational awareness and move back to a position of safety.
Additional features that benefit site safety include the ability to add tags to plant and onsite equipment to monitor speed and alert drivers if they are travelling too fast or enter an unauthorised area. Devices can also alert workers and plant operators if they are approaching each other to avoid a collision.
The benefits of improved site safety are far reaching. According to HSE, in 2018/19, the cost of injury to the construction sector was £660M. By improving site safety through the use of geofencing, contractors can reduce both the economic and human costs of accidents. That’s not to mention the knock-on effects of workplace injury, including productivity losses, admin and legal costs, employers’ liability insurance costs, etc. While all of these can be given an estimated monetary value, it is impossible to quantify the loss to the victim and their family.
The future of infrastructure projects
Geofencing offers an abundance of benefits that can shape the future of the infrastructure industry. Projects in the coming years could be managed in a much more dynamic way that increases efficiency and reduces occupational accidents.
The improved efficiency and safety achieved with geofencing can help projects be delivered within tight schedules, while keeping costs down; some restitution as the rising price of materials continues to cause project costs to skyrocket.
*Leo Scott Smith is chief executive at Tended
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