Canadian Rental Service

Equipment access management and the ‘zero incident’ site

By David Swan   

Features Business Intelligence ipaf protection Zero Incident

Man in a suit and hard hat smiles at an ipad.(Getty Images)

In terms of construction industry priorities, safety is never off the table – and with access management on the verge of a technological quantum leap,  the ‘zero incident’ construction site could become a realistic goal.

Canadian construction sites recently demonstrated the extremes in 2023, for example, in Ontario, construction deaths fell to the lowest number in eight years, at 16 deaths, while in B.C. a 35-year high of 54 deaths of workers, due to trauma or exposure were recorded.

Incidents on construction sites are an unfortunate reality, despite ever-stricter regulatory environments and the desire to minimize risk.

According to the latest International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) safety report, there were globally, 831 incidents among its members in 2022 and 102 fatalities. While that represents a fall of 19 per cent in 2021 it is some way from what the industry wants.

Sterling work

IPAF’s work on the safety front is to be applauded. Its important work on controlling access via its ePal app has been key in establishing a base standard as to who can and cannot access a machine. By the end of 2023, there had been more than 500,000 ePAL downloads globally.

IPAF doesn’t claim to cover the whole of the global powered access sector, but the growth in IPAF membership and ePal downloads indicates there is an increasing desire among stakeholders to make construction as safe as possible. At the forefront of that discussion is zero fatalities, zero incidents and zero risk. Indeed, given what the industry is aiming for with the next step in access management, technology is helping to move the target closer.

Access management is the process of allowing or blocking site entry and machine access with the desire to minimize risk. The biggest problem the industry has had to solve following the first wave of access management systems from 2016 related not to cost, but administration and implementation. Cost has never been a major issue.

Change management

Making the first generation of digital machine access management work effectively has at times been difficult. The challenge came in optimizing the application of the technology and the necessary change management that required. Whether someone had a rental fleet of 100,000, 50,000, or 5,000 machines, the problem came when customers tried to administer and distribute access to individual machines.

Typically, you might have had the general contractor and potentially three or four layers of subcontractors under them that would need to utilize or manage any given machine. On bigger projects, that could mean access keys or passcodes required for hundreds or even thousands of operators on a jobsite across a complex organization. It then became a question as to how their workflow got back to the rental company who owns the machine and in theory owns the access rights.

It became apparent that this was a serious workflow complication and a complex puzzle to solve. Rentals were faced with the problem of maintaining that standard all the way through the chain, requiring a degree of change management that was hard to implement. In the event, a reversion to sharing keys or swipe cards has been the unsatisfactory – quick-fix answer.

With the increasing sophistication of the technology in our hands, that’s changed. In essence, the next stage of the access management journey is about connectivity. Through the integration of machinery into the access management model, the unwieldiness that plagued the first generation has been greatly simplified. The barrier that essentially proved to be the block to systematic, digitally controlled access has been removed.

Rental companies and contractors now can, with their telematics partners, be confident that they have in place the necessary safeguards to greatly reduce risk and also have far more opportunity to win new business where strict safety requirements are present in the contract.

Layer of protection

Connected systems can automatically ensure that only those with the requisite qualifications are allowed to operate complex machines like MEWPs and excavators. This also means that it is no longer just about site access. It’s full-on machine access management too and provides the prospect of potentially every piece of equipment being on that system.

That means access can be monitored remotely on all machines and if necessary, taken away at the press of a button. Being able to demonstrate a company has taken every step possible to manage access adds another layer of protection in the event of an incident.

More than safety helmets and physical key cards

This is an exciting development because it brings standardization of safety on the construction site a step closer. As it stands, we have variable standards that, while frequently setting a high bar, are not ubiquitous. It could mean, for example, when skilled operators change jobs or companies across different jurisdictions, they would no longer have to go through training dictated by the requirements of that company or region as their digital-based qualifications would be easy shared with new employers, contractors or rental companies.

Although still in the future, that possibility has now become very real. In the meantime, an already strong focus on safety will only be strengthened as a top-down approach from OEM and rental to contractor and the individual operators fosters an ownership culture where the workforce takes direct responsibility for access and, by extension, risk minimalization. It might, in time, even enable a more inclusive workforce as the construction site becomes demonstrably safer.

We’ve seen how ownership is key to fostering positive reinforcement cultures both on sustainability and in the automotive industry and we can do similar here with strong messaging, the necessary technological upgrades, and the appropriate regulation to ensure compliance.

It is likely that for a marginal investment, the industry will have a system that is more effective than the current access management. I’m convinced that once the case for the next generation is established and proved, it will be adopted by the vast majority of the industry which will have a major positive effect through the rest of construction.

There will no doubt be further collaboration with organizations like IPAF as part of an effort to drive safety improvements through access. I see no reason why every piece of equipment on every site, say, in Canada and North America comes standardized and fully integrated into the system. If we get that, the safety benefits, the business value and the battle against downtime will take a quantum leap.

David Swan, SVP Products, Trackunit

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