1. Extreme winter construction requires important safety precautions

    Published Feb. 4, 2020By Paul Rozich

    Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York/Flickr

    Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from​ Paul Rozich, director of safety and risk management for Rockford Construction, a West Michigan-based construction, real estate development and property management firm.

    As frigid winter weather approaches each year, our work at Rockford Construction doesn’t stop. In fact, even in the middle of January, we are currently working on more than 100 projects throughout the cold and snowy Midwest. 

    Typical winter weather conditions include snow, ice, high winds, subzero wind chill and below-freezing temperatures. In Michigan where we’re headquartered, winter is often unpredictable, quick to arrive and slow to leave. Pre-planning is critical to ensure projects remain on schedule and, more importantly, workers remain safe. It is important that teams are trained and prepared for weather conditions and how they may impact the projects they are working on. Sitting down with project managers and superintendents to strategize about planning and safety implementation is imperative to a successful and safe winter season.

    We continuously monitor conditions to make the best judgment call to protect our employees and trade contractors and when temperatures and windchills are at dangerous levels, we halt work for the safety of not only our workers, but the overall project.

    Paul RozichRockford Construction 

    Not being prepared for winter weather can lead to injury, mistakes, poor work product and delays that can affect completion dates, budgets and client needs. Safety must always be the highest priority and not something that should ever be put on the back burner or overlooked. Here are some of our best practices for a safe, successful winter construction season.

    Employee Care

    Workers face constant exposure to the elements in the winter with the combination of cold temperatures and chilling precipitation. Since the potential for hypothermia, frostbite or other cold weather-related injuries exist, companies must train employees and communicate with them to keep cold winter safety at the forefront. 

    Field team members also need to pay close attention to weather conditions so they dress appropriately each day. Fortunately, there is a huge selection of cold weather gear on the market, including gear that is high visibility for enhanced safety. At Rockford, we provide our employees with several types of high-visibility attire for cold weather conditions and ask employees to layer their clothing, using some form of a face mask and a hat that fits properly under a hard hat. Water-resistant gloves as well as insulated and waterproof boots are also a must.  

    Site Maintenance

    There are many ways field team members can ensure safety needs are met before and during the winter. Before winter hits and the snow falls, teams must ensure that a site is clean and organized by taking care of basic housekeeping items like material laydown and storage in areas that might be affected by cold or snow. As the snow falls and starts to pile up, teams should be aware of other safety precautions like knowing what the roof load capacity is.

    Additionally, if a project is exposed to the elements, it’s important to know what the floor load capacity is as the extra snow weight needs to be considered. Have a plan ready in the event a site requires snow removal as the amount of snowfall can fluctuate in a matter of hours. 

    It is crucial that the surfaces and walkways on construction sites remain maintained so that contractors have a safe working environment. Two questions we always ask our team at Rockford Construction include: 

    • Has snow removal been assigned to a trade contractor’s scope of work or will we be using outside resources?
    • Will we be piling or removing snow off the jobsite?

    Equipment Storage

    If possible, it is recommended to store equipment in enclosed areas with heat. It is important when pre-planning to identify what options are available for equipment storage on the project during the winter months. It also critical to understand what equipment will be on the project and when and review that information with trade contractors.

    In many cases, we build temporary enclosures that have a heat source to defend against the cold temperatures that can damage equipment. Cold weather can result in damage to equipment and machinery so it is critical to make sure all fluid levels are sufficient and to inspect tire pressure each day during subzero weather.

    Ice Check

    Another important safety precaution involves identifying overhead ice and snow banks that could injure workers. Make sure to inspect probable locations for the formation of ice or snow accumulation that can fall on personnel. Remove with care, if able, or rope off the area so that personnel will not be working beneath it.

    If the project is open to the elements we plan ahead to make sure areas stay ice free. It is important to use the right de-icing product as a means to prevent damage to new concrete or other surfaces. To de-ice we use approved de-icing products, heaters and shovels to break up sections of ice.

    Heating Equipment

    When outdoor temperatures dip, portable heaters and propane tanks are often brought on to the site to keep spaces warm, which require additional safety precautions. Prepare a site logistics plan to include proper storage and protection of these tanks on stable and ice-free surfaces. In addition, follow OSHA requirements on how close tanks can be stored next to buildings.

    Heaters should be placed on fire-resistant surfaces away from combustible materials in areas with proper ventilation. Heaters should be inspected daily by someone on the jobsite to maintain a safe work environment.

    Winter construction brings uncertainty and never knowing exactly how each day will unfold. Always ensuring teams are prepared for the winter months keeps everyone on the track for success from groundbreaking to grand opening. 


    Shane Hedmond

    image courtesy of Feher Research Inc.
    image courtesy of Feher Research Inc.

    It seems a little odd to be talking about air-conditioning when much of the United States hit some incredibly low temperatures in recent days, but a product that I learned about recently is just too exciting to ignore. Announced at CES 2021, a research company has unveiled an air-conditioned hard hat (ACHH) that can reduce the ambient temperature up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit!

    Feher Research Inc. has taken a standard looking hard hat and turned it into the world’s first and only self-contained, portable air-conditioned headgear. This isn’t like a standard A/C unit with refrigerants running through copper lines, though; it uses the Peltier effect, the same thermoelectric technology used to cool the water coolers you might have in your office.

    (It’s also similar to the technology used for the Sony t-shirt air conditioners I’ve mentioned before.)

    This A/C Hard Hat isn’t backed by some Joe Schmo who just strapped a fan to the back of a hard hat, either.  The inventor of the product, Steve Feher, has been designing and patenting cooling products since the 1960s and created new technologies for cooling car seats that are used by Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Infiniti, Lexus, and GM. He’s also the creator of the Feher Helmet, the world’s first air-conditioned motorcycle helmet.

    The Hard Hat can be powered in multiple ways, the most important being through a 3ah lithium ion battery. According to the current specs, this battery will provide 2 hours of run time.  If you work a more stationary job, the hard hat can also be plugged in for continuous run time.

    Even with the added components, the ACHH is impressively light weighing in at 18.05 oz with the battery, only about 2-4 ounces more than a traditional hard hat.

    image courtesy of Feher Research Inc.
    image courtesy of Feher Research Inc.

    As far as head protection goes, it will still need to pass ANSI standards in order to work on a jobsite.  The adjustable head band of the hard hat is removed to make room for the components of the cooling system, which is sized like a baseball cap for optimum cooling effect.  Feher believes there are benefits to the construction of the helmet innards though:

    “…the ACHH is sized like a hat and covers the users head with a unique air flow structure for maximum head cooling, which also spreads any impact force over a larger scalp area than conventional hardhats that have straps with an adjustable head band” Feher explained, “The conventional straps don’t cover the entire scalp, in order to allow the scalp to breathe, so any impact force is transferred to the users scalp with fewer square inches of area than the ACHH, which cover more area and provides sub-ambient air closely to the users head..”

    Feher is offering licenses for his technology on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis and the tech will also be available for purchase.  MSRP for the AC Hardhat is expected to be around $140-150, which will include a 3ah battery, a battery charger, and a universal ac power supply.

  3. Safety Stories – 2020

    Shane Hedmond

    7 Biggest Safety Stories 2020.png

    2020 was a challenging year in many respects, but none greater than from a safety standpoint. The coronavirus pandemic placed the notion of “people over profits” under the microscope, while also balancing the needs of their employees to continue to make an income under difficult circumstances. While the pandemic was a large part of the construction safety conversation last year, there were several other developments to take note of for your projects in the future.

    Below are the 7 biggest construction safety stories of 2020:

    1. The Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic

    As mentioned above, there’s no way around the impact that this ongoing pandemic has had on the construction industry, from delayed and canceled projects, to increased safety precautions helping to slow the spread of the virus and keep our workforce safer.

    The AGC published results from a survey of over 2,000 construction firms, which asked how their company had been affected and also how they reacted. A large number of the respondents said that they had increased the use of technology, a response that I heard many times from construction technology companies last year. Companies were not only adding new technology to allow for more off-site collaboration, but also increasing their usage of existing technology.

    2. Trench Collapses

    Before the virus hit the US, the construction industry needed some tough love regarding the amount of trench related injuries and deaths it continued to have. There’s just simply no justification for either getting into or sending someone into an unprotected trench, no matter how quick the job might be.

    3. More Companies are Developing Exoskeletons for Contractors

    Muscular-skeletal injuries are a serious hazard in the construction industry, as all of that bending, kneeling, lifting, and twisting can have major long term health effects on your knees, back, and other joints. Exoskeletons are an emerging technology that hopes to reduce of that stress on the body to keep construction workers healthier and happier for longer on the jobsite.

    While exoskeletons have been around for years, 2020 saw many new developments, including new offerings from several different makers. Ekso Bionics released a new lighter weight exoskeleton called the EVO, Hilti announced their first foray into the technology, Fraco announced an exoskeleton specifically for masons at World of Concrete 2020, and RB3D developed a suit specifically for asphalt raking. 

    4. OSHA Regulatory Changes

    The 2020 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions is released by the federal government on a yearly basis, highlighting the steps that agencies plan to take in the months ahead. As part of that, OSHA announced 24 items they planned to amend, add, or remove, with 8 of those specifically affecting the construction industry.


    5. OSHA’s Stance on Headphones on the Construction Site

    The topic of music on a construction site will generate mixed reactions depending on who you talk to.  Some sites allow it and others don’t, for a variety of reasons.  Recently, there have been a few emerging headphone brands that limit the playback volume and also provide external noise reduction.  In a recent “Standard Interpretation” letter, OSHA has clarified its stance on this technology.

    6. Mobile Fall Protection Anchorage Point

    Not only are falls the most common cause of workplace fatalities in construction, but fall protection is continually the most common OSHA violation.  One of the excuses for lack of fall protection that I hear the most is the lack of a proper spot for an anchorage point.  Finding anchorage points can definitely be a struggle in certain circumstances, which is why I was intrigued when I found the Malta Dynamics Mobile Grabber last year.

    The Malta Dynamics X Series Mobile Grabber is a mobile fall protection device that provides an overhead anchorage point for those exact situations. The system is road-towable, has a relatively quick setup time, and can even be moved by a forklift for indoor use.

    7.  Construction Owner Charged with Perjury After Giving “False Information” to OSHA

    Having an OSHA investigation on your jobsite that results in fines is bad enough, but don’t be tempted to compound the issue by misleading OSHA investigators. That can leave you in a legal bind personally.

    You may not realize that an OSHA investigation carried out in a state under the Federal OSHA plan is considered a federal investigation and misleading investigators can result in a perjury charge if proven untrue.

    The owner of a residential home construction company found that out the hard way after he plead guilty to lying under oath during an investigation and was sentenced to two years of probation and a $5,500 fine.

  4. Construction Wearables – The Future in Worker Safety


    wearable technologyConstruction wearable technology is becoming trendy on job sites all over due to its ability to enhance safety as well as comfort for workers. Once a novelty in the industry, wearable construction technology has become a part of everyday life for construction professionals. Hard hats, shoes and other construction gears have become multi-faceted thanks to their merging with technology. These wearables are making job sites a safer and more productive place to work.

    Here are some new products you should consider testing at your job site:


    Construction workers can now wear this 360-degree personal safety and task light to make sure that they can see and be seen at all times.

    The Halo fits on any standard hard hat; install it by pressing down firmly, which allows the spring tension system to secure it onto the surface. It will stay on, regardless of the type of work you’re doing.

    Furthermore, the Halo comes in four modes. There is Halo Mode, which makes it visible from over a quarter-mile away and shown across 360 degrees. You have Hi-Alert Mode, which involves a personal revolving light tailor-made for those high elevation jobs. Also, there’s Task Mode, illuminating the work area in front of you, as well as Dim Mode to turn down your light.


    Working on a construction site can be hectic. MYO is an armband that works in tandem with Brigit glasses to help you multitask on-site, allowing you to climb or dig while communicating with your team without needing to stop your activity.

    Hand gestures are used to control these devices, eliminating the burden of holding onto a device. For example, you might be wearing heavy gloves, or have oil on your hands, and now instead of relying on touching a tablet or smartphone, you can control your device touch-free.


    Keeping employees healthy and on the job is key to running a successful construction business. Given how prevalent back injuries are in construction, StrongArm’s Flex ErgoSkeleton uses a posture pad to alert you if you’re bending or lifting things incorrectly or strenuously. There are also adjustment mechanisms tailored to your height and size.

    StrongArm offers the FUSE sensor, which collects posture information in real-time and provides feedback whenever you twist or move side-to-side.


    For workers who are out in the field alone, safety is especially important. The G7 provides real-time safety alerts via network connections. Those alerts go to a back-end monitor and are broadcast as needed.

    It can provide mass notifications of any new workplace hazards, security threats, and weather updates while offering two-way voice and text communication.


    Construction workers are particularly affected by temperature stress due to their work environments. This start-up company has created feet-friendly construction wearables in the form of soft-heating soles that can be used in shoes and garments. Heating levels can be increased to 200 degrees and help you power through those frigid winter conditions.


    Some dangers on the construction job site may not be easily recognized, and that’s where sensors come into play. MIT has created pressure sensors that weigh the level of contact between feet and shoes to ensure an even reading of data. The insoles with their integrated sensors then use the data readings to calculate the entire force applied by the user’s body weight and carried load on the shoe, and if what you’re picking up is too heavy, it lets you know and you can bring in some backup.

    There’s also an integrated jacket that employs wearable smart sensor construction techniques to increase the human perception of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. It possesses sensors at the top of its sleeves to detect dangerous gases and a sound volume sensor to handle loud on-site noises.

    Wearable technology has come a long way to improving working conditions, comfort, awareness, and safety on construction job sites.

    For the latest news on construction technologies, subscribe to CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365.

  5. How to Prevent Falls

    How to Prevent Falls When Working at Heights

    We don’t need to restate the serious risks posed by working at height, right? You have probably heard about OSHA’s Fatal Four – the four leading causes of injury and death in the construction industry.

    Fall hazards are the number one hazard on construction sites.

    Nearly half of construction worker fatalities involve falls from heightaccording to reports. On construction sites, slipping, tripping and falling are more frequent than other types of accidents such as vehicle collisions or being hit by a moving object. Non-fatal fall-related incidents are also of high-concern and the main reason workers spent precious time away from work. To businesses, this time translates to days of lost productivity and efficiency.

    Why is falling still a big problem? How do we prevent falls and ensure the safety of workers?

    Here are three common challenges and ways to address them:

    1.       Conducting a comprehensive fall risk assessment

    Any project requires planning. A risk assessment helps avoid worker injury or death by determining what could happen in case of a fall, the likelihood of it happening, whether control measures are in place, what actions to take and how urgently they need to be taken.

    To mitigate risk, we first need to identify foreseeable hazards and eliminate them. If this is not reasonably practicable, control measures need to be implemented and regularly reviewed to maintain a healthy and safe work environment.

    Identifying fall hazards requires identifying all locations and tasks where falls might occur. Spaces that typically need extra attention include:

    1.        Structures being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, repaired or cleaned.

    2.       Fragile surfaces such as rusty metal roofs and skylights

    3.       Potentially unstable surfaces

    4.       Elevating work platforms or portable ladders

    5.       Sloping or slippery surfaces such as glazed tiles

    6.       Unprotected open edges

    7.       Holes or pits

    Inspecting the workplace also implies talking to workers and technical specialists to check various aspects such as the design, layout and ultimately, stability of these structures and their load bearing capacity. The proximity and number of workers that work in unsafe areas and the quality of lighting are also  aspects worth considering.

    A proper assessment also includes reviewing all the available documents including incident records and “near miss” incidents. It’s also useful to check information available from regulators, industry associations, unions and safety consultants.

    2.       Finding the right anchorage point

    Anchorage is the first step in a fall arrest system. Anchors are secure points of attachment for horizontal or vertical lines, lanyards and other equipment to support the loads imposed during a fall. They can be permanent or temporary and vary to suit the type of structure available.

    Position is key to control the way a worker falls. An anchorage should be positioned directly overhead to avoid the pendulum effect. An incorrectly-positioned anchor point can swing the worker back and forth. This means he/she can strike nearby surfaces and get hurt. The wider the angle between anchor point and worker, the longer it takes for the descending worker to reach a position beneath the anchor, when a self-retracting lifeline can arrest the fall.

    Installing the anchor point directly above the work area and ensuring the critical angle does not exceed 30 degrees will help prevent such accidents.

    When workers risk falling over an edge and don’t have the option to use a higher anchor point, it’s vital to use SRLs that are fully edge-tested and approved to be attached at ground level. It’s also important to consider the distance needed for the SRL to operate, its location and distance to the ground so the worker does not hit the ground.

    3.       Selecting and using PFPE correctly

    There are three key components of a personal fall arrest system (PFAs) – a harness, a connection and an anchorage point. When used properly and in conjunction with each other, they provide an efficient fall prevention system.

    However, different work scenarios pose specific challenges when it comes to the right fall protection equipment.  Thus, each harness is engineered differently, with a series of components such as types of webbing, side, rear and frontal D-rings and lanyard rings.

    Durability and comfort are very important when choosing a harness, but also making sure it fits well and that shoulder, waist and legs straps can be adjusted.

    When it comes to the connection component – a lanyard or fall arrestor – you need to take into account the fall clearance distance and the work application. Around sharp edges, the lanyard should be exceptionally strong, durable and flexible. Workers grinding or welding at heights needs to use fire retardant lanyards, for instance.

    But above all, personal fall protective equipment should be worn consistently, especially when workers are moving from one work area to another.

  6. Trends That Will Transform the Construction Industry Outlook in 2020

    The overall construction industry outlook for 2020 varies by country and region. For example, GlobalData expects a 3.2% growth for the sector worldwide in 2020. That’s the slowest growth in a decade, but the industry is not sluggish everywhere. Although the Middle East is in a downturn, Chinese officials are stepping up infrastructure investments to prevent similar conditions in that market.

    Concerning broader construction industry trends, 2020 is set to be a year that shows some common themes becoming more evident globally. Here are nine to watch, all of which will likely influence the construction industry as a whole as well as its employees.

    1. Modular Construction

    Some estimates indicate that the modular construction market worth will climb as high as $157 billion by 2023, but this trend is already displaying staying power. It involves constructing the modules of a building off-site, then transporting them to the destination for assembly. This method often cuts costs and shortens the construction timeline.

    Marriott plans to open the world’s tallest modular hotel in late 2020. It will feature 26 stories and be built in only 90 days. Projects that include modular construction allow developers to finish faster than before, which could pay off during boom periods or when industry demands change quickly.

    2. 3D Printing

    3D printing constructs items layer by layer and typically much faster and cheaper than conventional methods. The construction industry has shown substantial interest in 3D printing, and people working in it are likely to continue seeing what’s possible in 2020.

    One recent proposal was for a 3D printed “pavilion” inside a roundabout to greet guests that attend Dubai’s 2020 Expo. But 3D printing in construction should result in much more than the creation of pieces meant to impress. In Mexico, construction is underway on 50 3D-printed homes. A specialized printer can create each abode in about a day.

    Much discussion about 3D printing in construction centers on whether the technology might be a realistic way to address the housing crisis. The method is particularly intriguing considering the labor and time reductions it brings. In 2018, a four-person team associated with the Marines used 3D printing to make a concrete barracks building in only 40 hours. Traditional methods usually require 10 people working for five days to build the structure out of wood.

    Due to examples like these and others, 3D printing should continue to revamp the construction sector in 2020 and beyond.

    3. Sustainability Innovations

    Requests from construction clients often include sustainability specifications, especially if customers want to receive eco-friendly designations or tax credits. The sustainable trend in construction shows no signs of slowing this year. Plus, new developments give people even more options for planet-friendly structures.

    Researchers at Heriot-Watt University recently went on a BBC program to show off a new kind of brick. It’s called the K-Briq, and the pioneering product produces only one-tenth of the CO2 emissions associated with conventional bricks. Although it weighs, looks and functions the same way a traditional brick does, the K-Briq’s composition is from 90% recycled construction site and demolition waste materials.

    Construction industry professionals are also excited about the potential of mass timber for sustainable construction. That material naturally captures carbon, which stays trapped inside the wood until the building degrades or gets destroyed. Sustainable construction industry trends in 2020 should remain hot topics, especially as people become more concerned about climate change and how to mitigate it.

    4. Exoskeletons

    Construction work can be grueling on the body, especially since it requires people to stand and perform strenuous physical activities for the majority of their workdays. These aspects of the career have encouraged companies to investigate using exoskeletons for their workers.

    Some construction employees use power gloves to improve grip strength and dexterity when they perform tasks like drilling. However, most exoskeletons are more extensive and appear as full-body suits. One industrial-use exoskeleton offers a strength amplification of 20 to 1, which means hefting 200 pounds feels like lifting only 10 to a suit’s wearer.

    Some Japanese workers wear exoskeletons to continue working past retirement age. That said, with the intensive work demanded by the construction sector, it’s easy to see how the exoskeletons could be useful at any age, particularly for reducing strain-related injuries.

    5. Robotics

    Robots are making impacts in industries ranging from agriculture to medicine. These high-tech machines have, not surprisingly, upended the construction sector too. Some models let workers perform layout tasks at sites more efficiently than traditional mechanical systems allow, for example.

    Potential also exists for the construction industry to get acquainted with collaborative robots — also called cobots. Cobots represent one of the most substantial recent robotics advances for many reasons, including their plug-and-play setup and the fact that they’re mobile instead of fixed.

    Robots could help construction projects stay on schedule and get finished under budget. However, interested companies must investigate which machines make the most sense for helping with time-consuming or labor-intensive tasks.

    6. Construction Companies Hiring More Workers

    Despite the slow growth anticipated for this year, a recent study from the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate showed that construction companies intend to expand their workforces in 2020. The research indicated that 75% of firms would increase their head counts in 2020.

    However, nearly a quarter of respondents (22%) expected hiring challenges when attempting to fill vacant positions. They reported that sourcing workers for salaried and hourly craft positions is exceptionally difficult. These obstacles are likely some of the reasons that robotics, 3D printing and modular construction are becoming more widely used in construction.

    7. Increased Interest in Used and Rented Equipment

    Construction firms will continue to consider renting equipment or buying used merchandise instead of buying things new. Those choices are construction industry trends for 2020 because both of them allow companies to keep pace with technological advancements at lower price points.

    Rented equipment, in particular, enables construction businesses to see if different machines deliver the expected payoffs. If they do, representatives can make decisions later about whether to purchase them. Similarly, used equipment is often made available with the latest software updates and kept in good condition, making the not-quite-new options appealing to firms that want to stay competitive while saving money.

    8. Redesigned Protective Equipment for Women

    Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety vests were, until recently, primarily made for men’s bodies. That meant women had no choice but to wear uncomfortable gear that often presented safety hazards because it was so loose.

    In the United Kingdom, a brand called Multiplex recently began offering a dual-tone women’s waistcoat for construction workers in supervisory roles. It was not previously available in a version sized for females. Similarly, Skanska toured multiple worksites to get feedback on several vests made for female bodies. After committing to creating new garments for females, it now has customized attire.

    Construction professionals should expect continued progress in this area moving forward. There’s a continued emphasis on diversity in today’s society, and although women are minorities in the construction industry, they are valuable contributors and need protective equipment that keeps them safe and is suitable for the work they do.

    9. Technology That Keeps Project Costs Down

    Although a wide variety of issues and inefficiencies can make projects cost too much, industry experts have weighed in to say that technology could reduce those budgetary excesses. For example, drones can capture high-resolution photos of a site faster than other methods, and virtual reality can let clients see what new additions would look like before construction professionals start working on them.

    Construction firms will continue to choose technology to support their labor needs, save time and improve processes. However, while looking for options that accomplish those goals, many will also want assurance that the investments will have positive effects on project costs.

    Construction Industry Trends in 2020 Will Have Lasting Impacts

    This list gives a glimpse of some aspects of the construction sector that will shape the remainder. As the topics covered here gain more attention, people should anticipate that many of them will forever change how construction brands keep clients happy and run their operations.

  7. Exoskeletons for Bricklayers

    Exoskeletons for Bricklayers: Science Fiction is Now Reality

    Words: Corinne Dutil
    Photos: MASONRY Magazine

    When we think of exoskeletons, the image of Iron Man might be the first thing that comes to mind…of course, who wouldn’t want to try out a suit like that! But the exoskeleton for the masonry industry, which we will be sharing with you today, didn’t come out of a movie script. It came from the collaboration between an innovative company, Mawashi Science & Technology, and a visionary entrepreneur and bricklayer, Mr. Armand Rainville, who wanted to better the lives of the men & women working in that trade.

    Armand Rainville knows everything about bricklaying. He has done it, he has run teams who did it, he bought a company that manufactures tools to help people do it, and now, 28 years later, Fraco Products is a leader in the mast climbers and hoist industry. His daughters, Emmanuelle & Julie, are now the co-presidents of Fraco, but Armand is still there, supporting them and staying one step ahead of competition, with innovation on his mind.

    One day Armand had an idea, “What about a suit that could help bricklayers stay healthy, avoid injury, help more women join the trade and keep the aging workforce laying bricks longer?” He knew exactly where to go to transform into reality, his vision of a suit, made specifically for the masonry industry. He got in his car and drove about 20 miles, to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, to meet with the team at Mawashi who had already developed a suitable solution for his vision; a passive load-bearing exoskeleton.

    Mawashi Science & Technology is a Canadian leading-edge defense innovation company that develops game-changing human augmentation systems, exoskeleton technologies and wearables. With a unique combined expertise in human factors engineering, biomimicry, new product development, multi-physics engineering, industrial design and system integration, Mawashi assures to its clients a technological advancement, a competitive advantage, and superiority in the industry.

    They understand the operational needs of war fighters and Armed Forces in terms of protection and survivability, mobility and flexibility, load carriage and distribution, as well as heat evacuation and management. Armand asked them to do all that, but instead of a soldier, it was going to be for a bricklayer. So how does a company that makes exoskeletons for the army, go about switching it up for the needs of a bricklayer? Mr. Jean-Marc Sheitoyan, Chief Strategy Officer at Mawashi, explains it like this:

    “In order to adapt our tactical passive exoskeleton for the needs of the masonry industry, we started by looking at the various tasks performed by bricklayers in collaboration with the team at Fraco. This study outlined the need for an upper limb exoskeleton structure to support the weight of heavy bricks and masonry tools during repetitive movements. We then imagined an ergonomic low-profile and body-molded aluminum structure, comprising mechanical joints aligned with the elbow and shoulder articulations, to ensure compatibility with human biomechanics and maximize the ease and range of motion of the upper limbs.”

    Five months later, we have the Fraco Exoskeleton by Mawashi! Created specifically for bricklayers, this hybrid system combines passive and quasi-passive actuation to support and assist the worker in lifting and placing masonry blocks as well as manipulation of masonry tools. It does not restrict the mason’s ease and range of motion when using the trowel to apply mortar and it reduces muscle fatigue during various tasks involving the bricklayers’ upper limbs.

    The exoskeleton’s quasi-passive joint locking mechanism is positioned directly at the arm’s articulations, which can support up to 15 lbs. per arm when the arm is outstretched, and 26 lbs. per arm when the arm is in a 90-degree angle. It is very low in energy consumption and the battery can last several days for standard masonry tasks. The passive lifting assistance mechanism consists of an elastic system coupled with an optimized spring-cam mechanism that can lift up to 10.5 lbs. per arm.

    The project will be carried out in 3 phases: the initial prototype, the final prototype, and the finished product ready for distribution.

    Fraco brought the initial prototype to the World of Concrete in February 2020, where crowds gathered at their booth every hour to see what most called, “the coolest innovation at the show”. The next phase involves fine-tuning the exoskeleton, and incorporating things like a safety harness, to make it even better for masonry workers.

    At the time of this writing we are in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, so the project might be delayed, but we are aiming to complete the finished product so that it could be ready for distribution by summer 2021. Only the upper part will be marketed, but eventually, if the demand is there, a full-body exoskeleton could be made available.

    If you are a bricklayer, you are either ready to buy yours, or you are thinking this is too good to be true…but it’s real! It is not action movie stuff! Fraco believes that this is the tool of the future for bricklayers. The weight of the upper limb system will be between 8 and 12 lbs. depending on the selection options. Once the exoskeleton has been adjusted to the right size, and the user is acclimatized to the system, it will take about 60 to 90 seconds to suit up.

    Will it make you win speed contests? No. But what it will do is take off the load of the bricks that weighs down your body every day, and allow you to have the same endurance at 4 PM as you do at 8 AM. It will also level the playing field for the workforce in masonry. Women who want to join the industry will be able to have more endurance, and the same thing goes for older bricklayers who have slowed down physically, because of endurance, age, or injury.

    Technology can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. When combined with the skills and brains of experienced tradesmen and women, technology becomes a lever, an added tool to help the industry and the well-being of the worker. There are many different tools to help bricklayers, but this one is the only tool that can greatly reduce the impact of bricklaying on the body of the worker.

    At Fraco, they believe the most important asset of any company or industry is the people, their health and well-being. A tool like the exoskeleton can help the physical health, but also the mental health. It can keep people whose bodies are forcing them to step down working. It can help with the lack of labor, by bringing more women to the industry. It can’t hurt anyone—it can only improve productivity, safety and well-being.

    To follow the exoskeleton progress closely, feel free to like the Fraco LinkedIn page to get all the updates.

    So, what do you think? Is this too good to be true, or are you ready to order yours?


    Keeping Construction Workers Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Every construction project is different and unique, and what is feasible and appropriate for any one
    project will depend on its unique characteristics. That said, the prevention tips that construction
    contractors may want to implement, include the following:

    • Any employee/contractor/visitor showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be asked to leave
    the jobsite and return home.
    • Safety meetings will be by telephone, if possible. If safety meetings are conducted in-person,
    attendance will be collected verbally and the foreman/superintendent will sign-in each
    attendee. Attendance will not be tracked through passed-around sign-in sheets or mobile
    devices. During any in-person safety meetings, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10
    people and participants must remain at least six (6) feet apart.
    • Employees must avoid physical contact with others and shall direct others
    (employees/contractors/visitors) to increase personal space to at least six (6) feet, where
    possible. Where work trailers are used, only necessary employees should enter the trailers
    and all employees should maintain social distancing while inside the trailers.
    • All in-person meetings will be limited. To the extent possible, meetings will be conducted by
    • Employees will be encouraged to stagger breaks and lunches, if practicable, to reduce the
    size of any group at any one time to less than ten (10) people.
    • The Company understands that due to the nature of its work, access to running water for
    hand washing may be impracticable. In these situations, the Company will provide, if
    available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers and/or wipes.
    • Employees should limit the use of co-workers’ tools and equipment. To the extent tools
    must be shared, the Company will provide alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and
    after use. When cleaning tools and equipment, consult manufacturing recommendations for
    proper cleaning techniques and restrictions.
    • Employees are encouraged to limit the need for N95 respirator use, by using engineering and
    work practice controls to minimize dust. Such controls include the use of water delivery and
    dust collection systems, as well as limiting exposure time.
    • The Company will divide crews/staff into two (2) groups where possible so that projects can
    continue working effectively in the event that one of the divided teams is required to
    • As part of the division of crews/staff, the Company will divide employees into dedicated
    shifts, at which point employees will remain with their dedicated shifts for the reminder of
    the project. If there is a legitimate reason for an employee to change shifts, the Company
    will have sole discretion in making that alteration.

    • Employees are encouraged to minimize ride-sharing. While in vehicles, employees must
    ensure adequate ventilation.
    • If practicable, each employee should use/drive the same truck or piece of equipment every
    • In lieu of using a common source of drinking water, such as a cooler, employees should use
    individual water bottles.
    Workers entering Occupied Building and Homes
    • Construction and maintenance activities within occupied homes, office buildings, and other
    establishments, present unique hazards with regards to COVID-19 exposures. Everyone
    working within such establishments should evaluate the specific hazards when determining
    best practices related to COVID-19.
    • During this work, employees must sanitize the work areas upon arrival, throughout the
    workday, and immediately before departure. The Company will provide alcohol-based wipes
    for this purpose.
    • Employees should ask other occupants to keep a personal distance of six (6) feet at a
    minimum. Workers should wash or sanitize hands immediately before starting and after
    completing the work.
    Job Site Visitors
    • The number of visitors to the job site, including the trailer or office, will be limited to only
    those necessary for the work.
    • All visitors will be screened in advance of arriving on the job site. If the visitor answers
    “yes” to any of the following questions, he/she should not be permitted to access the
    o Have you been confirmed positive for COVID-19?
    o Are you currently experiencing, or recently experienced, any acute respiratory illness
    symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath?
    o Have you been in close contact with any persons who has been confirmed positive
    for COVID-19?
    o Have you been in close contact with any persons who have traveled and are also
    exhibiting acute respiratory illness symptoms?
    • Site deliveries will be permitted but should be properly coordinated in line with the
    employer’s minimal contact and cleaning protocols. Delivery personnel should remain in
    their vehicles if at all possible.
    Keeping Construction Workers Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Page 3 of 3
    Personal Protective Equipment and Work Practice Controls
    • In addition to regular PPE for workers engaged in various tasks (fall protection, hard hats,
    hearing protection), the Company will also provide:
    o Gloves: Gloves should be worn at all times while on-site. The type of glove worn
    should be appropriate to the task. If gloves are not typically required for the task,
    then any type of glove is acceptable, including latex gloves. Employees should avoid
    sharing gloves.
    o Eye protection: Eye protection should be worn at all times while on-site.
    o NOTE: The CDC is currently not recommending that healthy people wear N95
    respirators to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, employees should
    wear N95 respirators if required by the work and if available.
    • Due to the current shortage of N95 respirators, the following Work Practice Controls
    should be followed:
    o Keep dust down by using engineering and work practice controls, specifically
    through the use of water delivery and dust collection systems.
    o Limit exposure time to the extent practicable.
    o Isolate workers in dusty operations by using a containment structure or distance to
    limit dust exposure to those employees who are conducting the tasks, thereby
    protecting nonessential workers and bystanders.
    • Institute a rigorous housekeeping program to reduce dust levels on the jobsite

  9. Social Distancing on Jobsites

    Gilbane Looks to Social Distancing on Jobsites and Finding the New Normal

    Working during a pandemic prompts new approaches

    The Proximity Trace wearable tag from Triax Technologies is custom-designed to promote social distancing and provide contact-tracing information for jobsites operating during the pandemic.

    Image Courtesy of Triax Technologies

    April 22, 2020

    [For ENR’s latest coverage of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here]

    “We’ve got it deployed on one job already, and it’s going to be beneficial for projects that are starting back up,” he says. “Right now it’s one more tool in the tool chest.”

    The Proximity Trace wearable tag made by Triax Technologies is a variation on the company’s Spot-r safety monitoring tag that had already been used on an ad-hoc basis for monitoring monitoring social distancing on jobsites. But Pelkey wanted something more purpose-built to deal with operating jobsites under the threat of COVID-19.

    “I reached out to them and I found that they were on the same page I was,” says Pelkey. “I think there’s a use case for IoT to work for social distancing, since it’s all about knowing where people are.”

    Triax Technologies existing Spot-r tag can detect when workers experience a sudden fall and also locate them on a jobsite within predefined zones. For the new social-distancing tag, the Proximity Trace fits onto a standard hardhat with a 3D-printed mounting clip, and unlike the Spot-r does not need mesh network base stations set up at the site. The tag beeps when it detects another tag nearby, and internally logs all other tags it encounters, reporting them to a web-based portal when it syncs with a unit at the site’s entrance gate. The audible alarm can be deactivated for a preset period with a button press for specific tasks that require multiple workers to be close together. Developed and manufactured in less than a month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Triax has already begun shipping the tags out to customers.

    “It has some of the same internal components but it’s an entirely new product,” says Robert Costantini, CEO of Triax Technologies. “No location data is being collected, what it collects is interactions. We’re looking to balance the privacy needs of workers while helping them get back to work.”

    Pelkey has already deployed the Proximity Trace on a hospital jobsite in New Jersey that was deemed to be essential construction. “That job currently has 120 people working on it, which is a fraction of the size it was prior to this,” he says. Pelkey plans to roll them out to other Gilbane sites across the country. “We have six other jobs already in queue to deploy these on, we think it will help them with their crews,” he says.

    In addition to reminding the wearers that they may be standing too close, the tags also provide invaluable data for contact tracing if someone on the jobsite tests positive for COVID-19. “The contact tracing is an important aspect for us: the faster you can track, the better. It provides us with that information much faster than checking daily work logs and making educated guesses,” says Pelkey.

    Finding the New Normal

    But a few beeping tags alone won’t solve the broader problem of running construction sites while an infectious disease is running rampant. Pelkey says it will take more than a few clever technology products to stay ahead of the COVID-19 virus. “The stuff we’re doing now—temperature checks for workers, smaller crew sizes, distributing work through multiple shifts, separating out the work schedule—those are all going to become normal things now.”

    Pelkey says Gilbane is considering how they can adjust their scheduling going forward to avoid having very large crew sizes all packed into the same area. “Owners are asking us, subcontractors are asking us, ‘what are you going to do to keep the jobsite safe?’”

    It won’t just be a matter of dictating new approaches, but uprooting a lot of current jobsite culture, he adds. “Our safety team is spending a lot of time doing that, breaking bad habits and trying to change the culture,” he says. “They have to explain to people that the way you were working before was fine, but now it all has to happen 6 ft apart.”

    Pelkey hopes other construction technology makers will step up with new ideas, but he stresses that general contractors and other project stakeholders need to step up and re-evaluate their own practices. “Things like how do we better structure work packets, crew assignments, and scheduling—we don’t have a ready-made solution for that,” he says.

    Scheduling software can help with that workload, but having to redo everything to meet social distancing often falls to some low-tech solutions. “I’ve pushed a few [software] vendors on this but no takers so far. The way these new [crew assignments] are managed today require a superintendent to sit down and say ‘OK this crew is here’ with a greaseboard,” says Pelkey.

    Going forward, Pelkey says the industry is going to have to distinguish between the sort of short-term triage being done to work through projects already underway and the new business practices that may be needed for projects yet to start. “For the jobs already going because they are essential jobs, the teams there are down in the trenches and don’t have time to thing about these big ideas. What we need to do is start thinking about what we are going to do in the future.

    Recent Articles By Jeff Rubenstone

  10. How Fungi can help create a green construction industry

    How fungi can help create a green construction industry

    Ian Fletcher, Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Leeds Beckett University
    The Conversation
    Hy-Fi, The Living, MoMA. Jessica Sheridan/FlickrCC BY-SA

    The world of fungi has attracted a lot of interest and seems to be becoming very fashionable of late. A new exhibition at Somerset House in London, for example, is dedicated to “the remarkable mushroom”. No surprise: we’re being promised that mushrooms may be the key to a sustainable future in fields as diverse as fashiontoxic spill clean ups, mental health and construction. It’s in this last field that my own interests lie.

    Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time: buildings are hugely complicit in the crisis. Together, buildings and construction contribute 39% of the world’s carbon footprint. Energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of these emissions: households are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2015, accounting for a quarter of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.

    The remaining 11% of buildings’ carbon emissions consists of those associated with construction and building materials. The UK construction industry, for example, uses around 400 million tonnes of materials each year and approximately 100 million tonnes become waste. Cement alone is responsible for a whopping 8% of global CO₂ emissions. Compare this to the much maligned global aviation industry, which emits 2% of all human-induced CO₂ emissions. Buildings and, by association, the construction industry, are profoundly responsible for climate change.

    <span class="caption">Cement – the key ingredient of concrete – is responsible for an astonishing 8% of all carbon emissions.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash">Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:FAL">FAL</a></span>
    Cement – the key ingredient of concrete – is responsible for an astonishing 8% of all carbon emissions. Ricardo Gomez Angel/UnsplashFAL

    There is evidently a real need for the construction industry to reduce the impact of its material and energy use and to take part in the transition towards a more sustainable economy by researching and using alternative materials. This is not an absurd ask: such materials already exist.

    Mushroom materials

    And yes, one such material happens to be derived from fungi: mycelium composites. This material is created by growing mycelium – the thread-like main body of a fungus – of certain mushroom-producing fungi on agricultural wastes.

    Mycelium are mainly composed of a web of filaments called “hyphae”, which acts as a natural binder, growing to form huge networks called “mycelia”. These grow by digesting nutrients from agricultural waste while bonding to the surface of the waste material, acting as a natural self-assembling glue. The entire process uses biological growth rather than expensive, energy intensive manufacturing processes.

    <span class="caption">Close-up image of mycelium showing interwoven fine hyphae.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">© Ian Fletcher</span></span>
    Close-up image of mycelium showing interwoven fine hyphae. © Ian Fletcher

    Mycelium materials offer an exciting opportunity to upcycle agricultural waste into a low-cost, sustainable and biodegradable material alternative. This could potentially reduce the use of fossil fuel dependant materials. The materials are low-density, making them very light compared to other materials used in construction. They also have excellent thermal and fire resistant properties.

    Fungal architecture

    To date, mycelium materials have been used in a number of inventive ways in building projects. One particular company of note is The Living, a New York based architectural firm which designed an organic mycelium tower known as “Hy-Fi” in the courtyard of MoMA’s PS1 space in midtown Manhattan. Designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program, the structure illustrates the potential of this biodegradable material, in this case made from farm waste and cultured fungus grown in brick-shaped moulds.

    <span class="caption">Mae Ling Lokko, Mushroom Panels and Pentagram interactive work. Part of Somerset House exhibition: Mushrooms The Art Design and Future of Fungi.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">© Mark Blower</span></span>
    Mae Ling Lokko, Mushroom Panels and Pentagram interactive work. Part of Somerset House exhibition: Mushrooms The Art Design and Future of Fungi. © Mark Blower

    Another project of note is MycoTree, a spatial branching structure made out of load-bearing mycelium components. This research project was constructed as the centrepiece for the “Beyond Mining – Urban Growth” exhibition at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 in Seoul, Korea. The project illustrates a provocative vision of how building materials made from mycelium can achieve structural stability. This opens up the possibility of using the material structurally and safely within the construction industry.

    Mycelium materials have also been analysed for uses ranging from acoustic absorbers, formed packaging materials and building insulation. And NASA is currently researching using mycelium to build habitable dwellings on Mars.

    Recycled buildings

    I am investigating the development of mycelium materials using locally sourced materials such as wheat straw. Wheat straw is a cheap and abundant source of waste in the Yorkshire region, so would be a fantastic raw material for construction. My main objective is to develop a material for use in non-load bearing applications, such as internal wall construction and façade cladding. The material displays similar structural properties to those of natural materials like wood.

    <span class="caption">Close-up image of mycelium of P. ostreatus growing around wheat straw.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">© Ian Fletcher</span>, <span class="license">Author provided</span></span>
    Close-up image of mycelium of P. ostreatus growing around wheat straw. © Ian FletcherAuthor provided

    The development of mycelium materials from locally sourced agricultural waste could reduce the construction industry’s reliance on traditional materials, which could improve its carbon footprint. Mycelium composite manufacturing also has the potential to be a major driving force in developing new bioindustries in rural areas, generating sustainable economic growth while creating new jobs.

    The construction industry is faced with a choice. It must be revolutionised. If we carry with business as usual, we must live with the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.

    Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The Conversation
    The Conversation

    Ian Fletcher does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.