Every day in the U.S., five workers die in construction accidents. "A lot of construction equipment is dangerous and it's noisy, too," says Matt Reynolds, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. "Being a construction worker is one of the world's most dangerous occupations."
"The problem is, the operator of heavy equipment and the construction worker frequently don't have a good line of site," he explained in a recent interview with the Durham, North Carolina, Herald-Sun.
"The construction worker might have his back turned to the equipment and not hear it approach. Frequently they get into the path of a machine."
One strategy tried over the years to cut down on this kind of construction accident is the familiar beeping backup alarm on commercial vehicles.
The backup alarm is only partly effective, however. For one thing, most construction workers wear hearing protection, which can make the backup alarm seem quieter and farther away than it actually is. Ear protection devices can also interfere with directional hearing.
Another issue is that back alarms are everywhere -- particularly on construction sites. They indicate that a vehicle is backing up somewhere in the vicinity, but they don't tell you that it's right behind you -- and you're in the way.
Reynolds believes he has a new workplace safety device that could solve those problems and further reduce the incidence of dangerous and often fatal construction accidents. He calls the device, which he has been working on for two years with civil and environmental engineering professor Jochen Teizer of Georgia Tech, a SmartHat.
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