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Smart Sensors Can Detect Hazards Employees Can’t


The scorching heat was unusual for the month of June. Near triple-digit temperatures enveloped the town of Chesterfield, Missouri for several weeks. Iron worker Thomas “Tommy” Barnes, Jr., 55, was doing some work inside a lift and was headed down to go outside for some fresh air when he collapsed. 

Unfortunately, he passed away a short time after. The next day, at nearby St. Louis, the heat was also blamed for taking the life of sheet metal worker Dale Heitman, Jr., 49.

Unfortunately, workers dying due to extreme heat conditions is not uncommon. According to OSHA, in 2014, heat-related illnesses sickened more than 2,600 workers and excessive temperatures were the cause of death for 18 workers that year. OSHA reports that since 2003, heat has killed an average of more than 30 workers each year.


But excessive heat is not the only unforeseen hazard threatening the health and safety of workers. There are other potential dangers that if not caught in time or managed adequately can pose a safety threat.

Exposure to noisy jack hammers, silica dust and hazardous fumes can also cause serious injuries and illnesses, like permanent hearing loss, incurable respiratory diseases and cancer. Among the biggest challenges facing safety personnel and superintendents today is monitoring hazardous environmental conditions across an expansive jobsite, which can often be a fast-paced and chaotic scene.


Aiming to take the guesswork out of potentially dangerous jobsite conditions, the newest safety technology––onsite sensors––are serving as an extra set of eyes and ears on the jobsite. These smart sensors can monitor heat, noise levels, dust and hazardous fumes and send real-time alerts to safety managers, superintendents and workers so they can head-off any accidents before they happen. The sensors can also collect and leverage valuable data that tells them what areas on the jobsite are showing a spike in the exposure levels and the peak times for those conditions.

Pillar Technologies sensors are the size of a shoebox and can be placed anywhere in a construction site. If for example, a high-temperature area is getting dangerously hot, a real-time alert will be sent to the safety manager and superintendent, notifying them of the condition.

“In the summer for example, when a crew is working, you can see when the temperature reaches a certain threshold and for how long,” explains Alex Schwarzkopf, a Pillar co-founder. “We can send push notifications and give them a little piece of information that is actionable and that matters.”


Pillar sensors collect and gather data from dozens of sensors across the jobsite. By bringing together all these data points, the company can then get valuable insight about the project’s ever-changing environmental conditions. These analytics are then provided to owners and general contractors through a monthly subscription service.

During one recent pilot phase for a Boston construction project, Pillar’s data revealed that heaters left running overnight were reaching excessively high temperatures that came very close to bursting the sprinkler heads.

“They had no idea,” says Schwarzkopf.

This valuable data allowed the contractor to correct the issue and steer clear of what could have been a very costly water damage disaster.

Having rich safety data allows contractors to be proactive, rather than reactive, about worker safety. For example, a general contractor can see if there were certain days that exposed workers to a high level of dust and what they need to do to protect their workers and prevent this from happening in the future.

“What’s interesting about this data set is that we can actually use it to power third-party applications,” explains Schwarzkopf. For example, if you wanted to leverage construction software to notify contractors of safety hazards, Pillar could push that data to the software.

Although still in the testing phase, the onsite sensors are expected to be released this fall. People are taking notice of this technology’s enormous potential. This year, Pillar won the Global Change the World For Profit competition at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.


Equipped with a microphone, laser particle counter and a UV sensor, the SmartSite Systemsensor monitors noise levels, dust and UV rays and notifies construction teams when they are at risk for injury or harmful exposure.

SmartSite, which is still in the beta phase, has set out to monitor construction sites in a manner that doesn’t get in the way of workers. The sensor requires no training and only needs to be switched on; it does the rest of the work.

SmartSite sensors can also be installed across the entire jobsite. But unlike Pillar’s onsite sensor, which can send real-time alerts to smart devices, SmartSite’s sensor will sound an alarm and warning lights alerting workers in the immediate area if any condition has exceeded safe working levels.

All data collected by the SmartSite sensor is logged in the cloud. These sensors monitor various hazards through a single consolidated dashboard, allowing potential issues to be found and fixed ahead of time. For example, safety managers can learn in advance which workers will exceed safe noise levels during the next shift and then take measures to protect them.


Technology is certainly changing the way we live and work. Safety personnel and superintendents are welcoming technology in efforts to keep their teams safe. What’s better than help is the proactive approach that the data collected from this technology provides and does for this industry.

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