Case Study: How Garney Construction found a heat stress safety solution to fit its diverse workforce and worksites
Kyle Hubregtse, Contributor
Garney Construction has put itself on a trajectory as an innovation leader in the construction industry. It completes both large and small projects for vital infrastructure for communities throughout the U.S. Whether it’s building a wastewater treatment plant or installing miles of water line, Garney prioritizes the successful completion of multiple projects every year, safely and on time.
Exposure to heat; the difficulties of working in increasingly extreme and varying weather conditions across projects; and injuries or deaths from overexertion continue to be major risks for workers and their employers. Like many other companies, Garney has taken a proactive approach to addressing these issues by implementing guidelines designed to warn employees of dangerous situations caused by heat and inform supervisors of interventions to prevent disasters, such as proper hydration and work-rest schedules.
The company also realized that a one-sized approach to properly planning for hot and humid work situations wouldn’t fit its business, given each of its individual workers handles heat-related stresses differently—and its projects take place in varying regions where heat conditions are unique.
Ryan Smith, Regional Safety Manager and CSP, and others from the internal safety council at Garney recognized the need to find solution to more effectively manage work among a diverse workforce and worksites. Just as with any safety decision, the team had to weigh the investment commitment against outcomes.
Especially when it applies to incorporating new technology into the safety program, any company must assess the short-term costs of not only the product/system, but the impact on productivity and adoptability. The short-term investment must always pay dividends in the long term. If the new technology and/or procedures prevent injuries or save a life, that’s the ultimate measure of return on the investment. Increasingly, with industrial workforce safety technology, there are additional returns that come into play, given data is being collected while the products/systems monitor workers for stress.
Optimal Performance, Maximum Safety
The challenge for new safety mechanisms is and always has been how to implement strategies that allow optimal performance while providing the maximum level of safety, while not inhibiting work progress. For heat stress prevention specifically, the interest was in finding a solution that is individual enough to respond to each worker and their unique physiology and risk profile, while choosing technology that would be widely adoptable and easy to interact with for workers and teams. Garney decided to test heat-prevention technology that might eventually fit the entire company and its complexities, by sampling it first.
The company tested the Kenzen device, which is small and light enough (at 30g) to be comfortably worn by any worker around the bicep and not interfere with daily tasks. The worker interface enables the employee to plan for their own day, based on a heat risk and work/rest calculator; monitor their own physiology; and access a tool that provides personally customized intervention solutions to heat and overexertion from simple inputs into a symptom checker.
This standalone system gave the power to individual workers at various worksites. Once workers understood their personal data was private and only viewable by them, and they learned about their bodies’ reactions to working in heat and humidity, enthusiasm for the solution increased.
Diverse Array of Challenges
When companies operate in multiple geographic regions, there’s a diverse array of challenges with different climates, teams, and individual “personalities” and preferences. Testing new technology should address this, to provide value at both the individual and corporate level. Despite the diversity of locations and workforce, larger companies must focus on deriving value for new safety technology across the operation.
For this case study, many heat-related challenges (such as exertion) were similar across worksites, while locations varied in temperatures and humidity. Technology needed to detect the nuances and report on how the unique characteristics of the environments affected workers as an aggregate. Clothing is unique at each site and attitudes are different—but the common denominator is that every worker should return safely to their family at the end of the day.
The ability to scale a new product or procedure requires local testing to be proven before a larger rollout. Workers, sites and supervisors were chosen to be part of the test, based on their location, background, unique regional challenges and the ability to champion a new technology (or not). The workers using the devices were diverse in their roles; their familiarity with technology; and even their enthusiasm for new safety measures.
On Site Scenes
Stepping onto one of the project sites before the sun rises, the first thing to notice is the entire team warming up together and stretching before they begin the day—a clear indication of the company’s focus on worker preparedness. Next, the team huddles before work begins to debrief from the previous workday and strategize for today. Although safety shouldn’t be rushed, technology such as worker wearables that monitor for signs of heat stress must be designed to be quick to don—so progress can stay on schedule at the worksite.
Throughout the workday, while monitoring the safety of the workers’ bodies under varying heat conditions, prevention and preparedness continue to be prioritizes. Wearable technology provides individualized alerts to both workers and their managers to effectively maintain optimal performance of uniquely individual bodies—by indicating when it’s time to rest and rehydrate and when it’s time to safely resume work. Variable, customized work-rest schedules increase productivity over the course of the day and the project vs. all-team breaks that treat everybody the same.
Tests conducted during the summer of 2020, across multiple locations and with diverse teams of individuals with unique physiological make-ups, have informed the company on the deployment ease and adoption, and produced its first set of physiological data matched to the national footprint of the organization. Garney is using this information to make longer term, enterprise-wide decisions on a potential rollout of the technology that will provide it with universal heat detection and prevention and productivity data to use for future safety enhancements. This benefits both individual workers and the company overall. IHW
Kyle Hubregtse oversees global commercial operations, worksite setup and user adoption for companies using Kenzen’s physiological monitoring technology. Kyle is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and has spent 15 years working with military, global supply chain and industrial projects focusing on strategy and project management in heavy industries where health and safety has always been motivating factor in his career.