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How machinery is changing construction risk

At a glance

  • Technological innovations are changing the amount and type of risk within the construction sector
  • Automated machinery could reduce the amount of on-site injuries
  • It is important for brokers to ensure construction customer policies are aligned with the latest technological advancements

From Building Information Modelling (BIM) to 3D printing, technology is changing how the construction industry operates.

The need for specialist cover is evident in the continued evolution of construction machinery being utilised within the sector. The growth of 3D is leading to pre-fabricated building modules being rapidly produced, and nanotechnology is leading to the creation of newer, stronger construction materials.

While we are not yet at the stage of armies of nanobots building skyscrapers, increased automation has dramatically affected how risk is managed.

For many years, the same core construction methods developed hundreds of years before were still largely in use. However, in recent years technological innovation has led to quite a few advancements within the industry.

“There’s now a huge spectrum of specialist equipment out there,” says Andy Penny, Construction Underwriting Manager at Zurich Insurance. “While it’s not yet widespread, there is machinery in use today that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago.

“For construction customers, brokers and insurers alike, this has meant that insurance coverage has had to evolve to cover this latest technology. While much of this new machinery has reduced the amount of risk within the construction sector, some potentially present a whole new range of dangers that customers need to be aware of.”

Road to innovation

Paving is a prime example of how machinery has reduced risk within the sector.

When laying block paving, workers used to spend most of their day kneeling down, resulting in a high number of claims due to back and knee injuries. However, innovations such as the Tiger Stone paving machine now help prevent long-term health problems by allowing the workers to carry out the majority of their work in a normal upright position. This keeps the workforce working and helps prevent possible health and safety or legal issues.

If the number of construction claims reduces over time, then policy prices come down.”

Andy Penny, Construction Underwriting Manager at Zurich Insurance

Developed by Henk van Kuijk, director of Dutch industrial company Vanku, the Tiger Stone is a machine that lays loose bricks on to the road as it moves along. “The Tiger Stone paving machine is the kind of innovation that the construction industry is coming up with year after year,” says Andy. “It’s a simple, but great idea.”

It’s also faster. A human paver might only lay between 75 and 100 sq feet of road per day, but the electrically powered Tiger Stone, with its two human operators, can pave 3,299 sq feet.

New frontier of risk

While new machines such as the Tiger Stone paving machine may reduce risk on site – and speed up construction, this does not automatically mean cheaper insurance policies.

“It will still come down to the claims experience,” says Andy. “If the number of claims reduces over time, then prices will come down but sometimes new technologies can have unforeseen effects.”

The need to insure new machinery may also require amends to be made to your customer’s overall portfolio.


“These machines may bring the benefit of fewer accidents, but they can create new responsibilities themselves,” notes Andy. “An automated machine, for example, may require the implementation of new safety measures and added health and safety practices.”

One technological innovation that insurance providers are monitoring is the use of driverless technology. The focus is currently on companies with vehicle fleets, but there may also be opportunities for its use within the construction industry.

“Many farming vehicles these days are essentially guided by GPS, making them more efficient at driving in straight lines,” notes Andy. “There is no reason why a version of this couldn’t work with a road grader or bulldozer on a construction site, as it would almost certainly be more accurate.”

Of course, as science-fiction has warned us, machines should not be left completely in charge!

Automated vehicles should always have human supervision to act as back-up when necessary. New systems, such as anti-collision technology, will help prevent accidents but will also present challenges for an insurer in terms of assessing risks and responsibility.

Helping reduce risks in dangerous work environments

Construction sites are, by their very nature, dangerous places to work, and health and safety is a constant concern, whether workers are building a skyscraper or a road. Therefore, any advances in technology that help protect workers, boost safety and help reduce claims, are widely welcomed by the industry.

“For many customers, a common and prominent risk on site is a member of staff getting run over, either by traffic or a construction vehicle,” says Andy.

“One innovation developed over the past few years is a device attached to workers’ vests that contains a proximity sensor. As the cabins of many construction or quarry vehicles are so high, it is often hard for the driver to be fully aware of workers around the site. This alarm warns them if they are approaching people – it’s just one of the ways that technology is reducing the number of people injured on construction sites.”

While technology is helping to give the construction industry the boost it desperately needed, how this machinery will work in unison with its human operators will determine the level of risk going forward.

Brokers’ in-depth customer knowledge, coupled with Zurich’s expertise and experience in risk-management and advancing technology in the sector, presents a great opportunity to work together for the benefit of construction customers. Customers can gain a better understanding of the new machinery available to them, while ensuring policies are up to date with the latest industry innovations.

Technological advances are bringing the construction sector to the brink of a revolution that could forever change how we build the world around us. We can help those customers at the forefront of this changing landscape.

For more information please speak with your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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