Construction Industry Research and Policy Center Aims to Make Roofing Safer with App

About one in eight construction fatalities are caused by falling from a roof, a trend that researchers at the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center in UT’s Haslam College of Business hope to help reverse.

Researchers noticed the issue while sifting through several years’ worth of data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In an effort to reduce such fatalities, the center teamed up with UT’s Tickle College of Engineering to create the free app “Roofing Safely is NO ACCIDENT.” It is available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

Ed Taylor

“The app is a tool to tell roofers what fall protection they need,” said Ed Taylor, executive director of the CIRPC. “It provides a decision-making flow chart to walk a person through the process determining safety precautions based on the characteristics of a roof.”

One feature of the app is a virtual protractor that can be laid over a smartphone’s camera image to measure the angle of a roof. It may be used by owners, crew leaders, and workers, and includes a function for reporting safety violations.

According to Taylor, the annual fatality rate for roofers is around 30 fatalities per 100,000 workers, while the construction industry as a whole averages about 10 per 100,000. When all types of industries are combined, the average drops to about three fatalities per 100,000 workers annually.

“The thing about residential roofing companies is that anyone can climb up on a roof,” Taylor said. “Many small companies just need a ladder, a pickup truck, and a nail gun. Also many roofers work on low-slope residential roofs every day and feel comfortable up there. They underestimate the risk.”

The app was developed by students of Xueping Li, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and director of the Ideation Laboratory in the Tickle College of Engineering.

“Before we worked on this app, my students and I did a few different projects for CIRPC,” Li said. “We transformed their paper-based workflow and report into a database in an earlier web-based app that won an award from the Department of Labor.”

Li and his team used Adobe Flashbuilder software to create the app. Graduate students Mohit Shukla and Alison Huang developed an iterative design process, and Li’s entire team worked to brainstorm the app’s user interface and experience.

“I love new technologies, especially when they contribute to the community and make a difference,” Li said. “This is a great example of how technology can improve safety on construction sites.”

 

CONTACT:

Gerhard Schneibel (865-974-2894, gschneib@utk.edu)

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, tyra.haag@tennessee.edu)