Prepping for the Future of Construction Site Risks

The construction sites of the future will look very different from present-day sites, as advancing technology carries forward the processes, equipment, and even the concept of workforce used at construction sites. The term ‘future’ should not be interpreted to mean the distant future, since much of that technology is already available, and in some cases is even already in use.

For instance, drones are already being used at various construction sites around the world to monitor structures from above and to assure that an overall site remains completely safe. There is an entire new classification of machinery called intensive construction equipment (ICT), which provides for unmanned operation of certain pieces of heavy equipment like hydraulic excavators and bulldozers.

When important structural information is needed, it might be gathered by highly flexible robots called hydras, which look like snakes and move up and down and side to side, courtesy of their alternating joints. Whereas formerly this kind of information gathering could only be accomplished by workers tethered to poles or beams, the hydras can now slither about using digital cameras and ultrasound sensing equipment. Even building design is likely to undergo a significant change, with major advances in digital 3-D imagery, 3-D printing, holographic 3-D imagery, and LED displays, all of which will make the modeling of buildings something akin to artwork in its precision and accuracy.

However, the usage of high-tech gadgets and techniques will not necessarily spell the finish of construction site risks. There is sure to be a shift in the nature of risks on site, but it will still be necessary to implement a plan to manage risk at a construction site, and to periodically revise and adapt for changing conditions. Here are some construction risks which can be expected to be associated with sites of the very near future.

Construction site risk of the future

The drones mentioned above which can be used to monitor a site, and which will likely be used in the future to carry out certain tasks that humans currently perform, are a good example of the future risk associated with a construction site. Since a drone is necessarily connected to an electronic communication system that makes it vulnerable to cyber-attack, which means it could be diverted by a hacker from its programmed flight path, and possibly re-programmed to carry out acts of sabotage. This in microcosm, is where a great deal of the future risk at a construction site will emanate from – with greater use of electronics and the and the Internet of Things (smart objects connected to the cloud), there will be increased exposure to cyber-attack.

In most construction sites, there’s some kind of control unit which manages every major piece of machinery, either by a temperature sensor, a flow meter, a pressure sensor, or some other kind of control. Usually all these control units are tied into a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. At more sophisticated construction sites, the SCADA system obtains its guidance from building information modeling (BIM) software. Most of the important information gathered at any construction site is relayed to this overseeing software, and after evaluation, updates are sent back to control units. In a model like this, it’s easy to see where chaos could result if some truly committed hacker were bent on gaining control of a construction site and causing interference.

Vulnerability of electronics systems

Almost all of the technological advances coming to construction sites will be in some way vulnerable to outside attack, which could come from a number of different sources. By extension, that means that much of the risk associated with construction sites of the future will also be related to electronics, and the possibility of cyber-attack.

Even some of the same attacks already in use by hackers on ordinary computer networks, could be effective in the high-tech electronic environment of future construction sites. It would still be possible for example, for someone on-site to open an email and click on an attachment which spreads a virus into the network, and manages to gain control of key construction software.

Such invasions have already occurred, and serve to prove the point. One spectacular example is the smart refrigerator which was connected to the Internet of Things and was programmed by its attacker to launch hundreds of thousands of spam emails. To bring the threat right into the construction industry itself, one need only review the circumstances surrounding a cyber-attack on department store giant Target, which ended up costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Subsequent analysis of that attack discovered that it was originally launched through an HVAC vendor, so from this it can be assumed that the construction industry is neither immune nor overlooked by cyber attackers.

Bottom line

In truth, present day construction sites already have some of these same cyber vulnerabilities, since electronics are in widespread use on many modern sites. However, it is more than likely that the prevalence of electronics systems will grow exponentially at sites of the future – especially complex sites where major construction initiatives are underway – and that only increases the risk of attack. Since all this is already known to be fact, it is incumbent upon construction site managers to take this information into account, and prepare a construction site risk management plan which is commensurate with the changing landscape of future construction site risks. For additional help with risk management solutions, contact Allied Insurance Brokers.

*Allied does not deem this blog entry as a complete and thorough listing or overview of the above topic, and does not recommend it be primarily relied on. It only highlights some common issues and resolutions. For a thorough overview, please contact Allied’s Risk Engineering Division.