Every week should be national construction safety week in construction. With safety being a constant issue in construction, it’s important to understand how modular construction, prefabrication, and offsite construction provide numerous advantages to construction companies seeking ways to make their projects safer.
Prefabrication and modular construction are techniques from manufacturing utilized to improve construction processes and reflect the industrialization of construction—welcome Industry 4.0.
A survey taken by the FMI/ BIM (Building Information Modeling) Forum shows that project work using prefabrication has almost tripled. Also, contractors are now spending 20% of their working hours on prefabrication, compared to 12% in 2010. These numbers are accelerating.
Reasons why offsite construction has become more popular include:
- Saved Time
- Saved Money
- Reducing Waste
- The ability for deconstruction and rebuilding
- Higher quality
The Importance of Safety
Improving safety conditions and working in a controlled, permanent environment are fundamental reasons why offsite construction is taking off in the US.
A couple of years ago, AEC professionals in the US were surveyed, some utilizing offsite construction. The results are pertinent today.
- 58% who were already involved in offsite construction said safety was the number one reason for its’ importance.
- 49% of those not involved said safety was the main reason for introducing offsite construction.
The fatal injury rate for the construction industry in 2020 was 10.2, up from 9.7 in 2019.
The Risk of Constructions’ Fatal Four
According to the report above, American worker fatalities occurred in the construction industry were mostly connected to the fatal four.
- Struck by an Object
- Caught in Between Objects
Offsite construction, prefabrication, and modular construction can help mitigate the Fatal Four.
1. Falling from Heights
When modular buildings are transported onsite, up to 90% of the building could already be constructed. Through offsite construction, more work takes place at ground level. This could reduce the need to work at heights by as much as 80%.
2. Struck Objects or Related Impact
With less machinery, construction vehicles, heavy materials, and construction workers on the jobsite at any time, there is a lower risk of workers being:
- Struck by a falling object
- Hit by a construction vehicle
- Crushed or caught in a cave-in of heavy material
- Caught in-between cramped machinery
The three most common causes of death through electrocution are:
- Contact with overhead power lines
- Contact with an energized source
- Incorrect use of extension cords
There is less danger of workers hitting an overhead powerline in offsite construction. Most of their onsite construction will occur at a low, safe level. Power tools are more likely to have a permanent location without accidentally leaving extension cords across a walking space. Tools need to be kept in dry areas without exposure to moisture. This could be the cause of wet weather conditions.
4. Unsafe Weather Risks Conditions
Weather conditions can often be the reason for losing time onsite, on a day when it could be too dangerous to work in:
- Strong winds
- High or low temperature
- Heavy rain
Strong winds can make it more dangerous to work at heights. The winds have the chance of blowing away essential tools or damaging moveable scaffolding. They can also cause hearing difficulty, even if a large vehicle moves close. Dehydration and tiredness are two common construction effects that occur during high temperatures. Important Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves could feel too warm to wear. Too much rain can cause problems, such as:
- Contaminating certain material
- Collapsing of earthmoving jobs
- Blocking roads and pathways
5. Manual handling injuries
With repeated jobs in a modern and permanent factory setting, lifting, arranging, and securing different building sections can be done using light machinery. Materials such as wood and steel are more prevalent in modular construction, much lighter to carry, and easier to recycle.
6. Slips, Trips, and Falls
Factory settings with cleaner working conditions make it less likely for common accidents to occur. Studies have shown that the safety of the offsite workstation is often more critical. For example, designated storage areas or color-coding walkways prevent workers from walking in an unsafe space or leaving any equipment on the walkways.
7. Local Community disruption
With less noise and heavy vehicles around, modular construction causes less disruption for onsite workers and residents or workplaces. This is more important when extensions are being made for schools, hospitals, or active businesses that are still in use and is one of the reasons why the NHS has welcomed modular construction.
8. Built for deconstruction, not Demolition
Sometimes referred to as Lego bricks, modular buildings can be permanently located or made relocatable, deconstructed onsite, and rebuilt. This reduces the amount of raw materials and energy required for a completely new structure. The most common markets in this form of construction are education, retail, healthcare, and construction-site offices. In addition, emergency housing could be temporarily needed after a disaster such as an earthquake.
Two Major Advantages of Prefabrication and Modular Construction
- Working in a controlled prefabrication facility, better quality testing processes, and discovering issues prior to onsite delivery and assembly. Costly rework is also mitigated.
Addressing Labor Shortage
- The continuing labor shortage makes it difficult for construction firms to find the well-trained labor for the necessary work. As a result, jobs often need to be more appealing, maybe offering higher wages, better training, and long-term employment opportunities.
Every week should be safety week. The Fatal Four are accidents that can be reduced, with some of the causes, including unsafe weather conditions being wholly prevented. Apart from a safer working environment, benefits such as reduced project schedules and lower costs are other positive effects. For example, a safer working environment could be why work takes less time, with dangerous inclement weather avoided. Lastly, insurance premiums and money could also be saved by reducing the number of accidents and illnesses caused by the traditional building techniques.
While the US Modular Building Institute estimates that modular construction accounts for approx. 3% of the market share of modern construction, figures are forecast to rise to 5% by 2022. Given all the benefits of prefabrication, it continues to grow in popularity.