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

December 21, 2016

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

Researchers noticed the issue while sifting through Occupational Safety and Health Administration data for multiple years. In an effort to reduce such fatalities, the center teamed up with the Tickle College of Engineering to produce the “Roofing Safely is NO ACCIDENT” app, which is available free of charge in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

“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, as well as providing a function for reporting safety violations.

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

“The thing about residential roofing is that there is a very low barrier to entry,” Taylor explained. “Many small companies are active since all you really need is 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 at 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.”