Safety is the watchword for technology specialist

Reactec CEO Jacqui McLaughlin

REACTEC, the Scottish firm behind a social distancing solution hailed as ‘absolutely imperative’ to the £3.6 billion Thames tideway project, has revealed that it is in the process of developing further site safety technology.

Launched in 2001 as a spin out from the University of Edinburgh, the company began as a vibration engineering consultancy. It released its award-winning HAVwear watch in 2016– allowing firms to track the level of vibration workers are being exposed to, thus mitigating the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) being developed.

Currently, Reactec’s HAVwear watch is utilised by some 70,000 workers at 900 different firms around the globe.

When Covid-19 struck in early 2020, Reactec took just 15 days to develop an add-on to the watch which would allow it to alert workers when they stepped within two metres of another person wearing the tech. Additionally, site chiefs have access to a database which holds record of all close contact interactions – meaning a positive case does not result in an entire site isolating, rather only those who came into contact with that individual.

The technology is utilised on a host of major construction projects, including the tram works in Edinburgh, HS2 and the Thames Tideway project. In the case of the latter project, Beth Willoughby, construction director for CVB, the firm delivering the eastern section of the super sewer, said that the watch put a stop to Covid disrupting the project.

Speaking to Project Plant magazine, Jacqui McLaughlin, CEO of Reactec, explained that CVB was able to measure the benefit of the watch from a monetary perspective. “In the case of the tideway project, they were able to measure it quite easily through what it meant to them in terms of if they had a downtime due to people being sent home after a colleague tested positive,” she said. “We could equate how much it would cost because of lost productivity.”

Jacqui, who joined the firm in 2014, believes technology will be the future of every industry, including construction. She explained that digitisation is the main theme in the industry’s transition to a more technological future, with a greater level of readily accessible data and more efficiency being sought.

“With the bigger players in the construction sector, I do think that they embrace technology,” she said. “I think that the construction sector is changing rapidly – particularly with more innovative and advanced major players in the industry. I wouldn’t say they’re not willing to look at technology.”

Looking to capitalise on the growing adoption for such solutions in construction, the firm is now targeting systems that protect workers from noise and dust. Jacqui explained that the issue of dust is one of the most common problems raised by customers – perhaps exemplified by the HSE’s long-standing ‘Dustbuster’ initiative, which seeks to highlight how exposure to high levels of dust can lead to major health risks such as cancer.

Reactec is currently working to release a system which builds on sensors which track levels of dust exposure at a personal level. Collaborating with a dust sensor expert, the firm will work on bringing it ‘to life’ in the sense that feedback, or data, from the technology will become presentable and easily read so that those in charge can take a proactive approach to managing personal exposure to dust. Similarly, the system used to tackle noise will use data to keep an active track of sound levels on site.

Jacqui acknowledges that such increased uses of technology in workplaces may come as a culture shock to some, but says it is no different to what is being embraced in our spare time as technology continues to advance.

“Within a workplace environment you’re gathering data that’s relevant to (that) environment and risks in much the same way you do yourself with a Fitbit; you’re gathering all this data yourself whether it’s a Fitbit or some other sport-type monitor, and just by seeing your own trends and activity you adjust your behaviour.

“What we’re trying to do is look at that for what is relevant to the workplace and workplace risks and we’re very much aligned with the construction sector in that respect – bringing that data with ease is what helps employers do something that bit more creatively or meaningfully in terms of workplace safety.”