Could ChatGPT have an impact on the construction industry? 

There’s a lot of hype around AI, but it can be difficult to imagine how tools such as ChatGPT will have an impact on construction and civil engineering. Here, Richard Stockley, discusses how AI can positively impact one of the most crucial elements of these more practical industries: health and safety training and education.  

There’s been a massive spotlight on AI since 2022. The launch of ChatGPT and similar tools, like Google’s Bard, were met with enthusiasm by the public and early adopters. It’s clear that this technology has great potential, but it’s hard to put your finger on what that potential really is.  

At first, it seems like these tools will only impact desk-based and administrative industries due to generative AI’s functionality. We often hear how ChatGPT can create text-based content in multiple languages, explain complex topics, and even support coding. But does AI have applications for more practical sectors? 

In the construction industry, we are seeing how AI can support the initial stages of building design, using machine learning to generate optimised design options

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley

automatically that a human can then tweak to perfection. Combined with VR, generative AI gives designers the ability to explore multiple design options in real time and test adjustments quickly and cheaply.  

The same powerful combination of generative AI and VR is being tested in the industry for creating safety simulations, reducing the risk of incidents in real life.  

But in both circumstances, generative AI is only part of a bigger solution. How will ChatGPT itself, or something like it, apply to construction and civil engineering, in occupational health and safety e-learning? 

Health and safety e-learning has used a lower level of AI for years now. Working in a similar way as the language-learning app Duolingo, machine learning serves up content based on how well a user is performing in interactive learning modules and provides basic pre-written feedback when they make predictable mistakes. 

The main drawback with e-learning is that, while it’s cheaper and less-time intensive than classroom-based learning, the quality of the interaction between teacher and student is quite low, because the ‘teacher’ is little more than pre-written and static copy. In contrast, a human teacher in a classroom can adapt to every individual learner’s needs and deliver completely custom feedback on the fly. But this is more resource intensive.  

Generative AI can bridge the gap between e-learning and classroom learning. With e-learning powered by something like ChatGPT, trainees will receive personalised and contextual feedback, not too far from the level you might expect in classroom learning. This means higher quality, cheaper and easier learning, which in turn could mean a safer workforce, with fewer incidents, accidents, and ill health. 

Generative AI is a double-edged sword though. Right now, AI is prone to creating poor quality content that is often incorrect and, in some cases, riddled with biases.  

As it gets cheaper to produce interactive e-learning, we will see a flood of very specific learning modules designed for unique and infrequent tasks and issues, which is a good thing. But home-brewed training courses won’t necessarily be up to muster, and AI borne mistakes and biases may go undetected.  

With all those caveats aside, the overall impact of ChatGPT-style AI tools will be positive if it improves our ability to transfer, process and learn information on the job. Better learning improves staff engagement and retention, workplace culture, and, of course, health and safety.  

We at RRC are confident that the thoughtful application of generative AI will improve health and safety training in construction and civil engineering, and we look forward to the results.   

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor. 

Richard Stockley is Managing Director at RRC International. First established in 1928, RRC International is the UK’s leading international provider of health and safety and environmental management qualification training. With over 90 years’ experience in delivering high-quality training for both individuals and organisations within the UK and overseas, the company has built a longstanding reputation as training and learning experts across a variety of vocational and desk-based sectors.