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CONSTRUCTION ERGONOMICS & SAFETY

Since 1995 LERC has been a member of the research consortium on construction safety and health organized through The Center to Protect Workers Rights and funded through a NIOSH cooperative agreement. LERC researchers have carried out a series of distinct but related projects under this research program. Ergonomics in construction has been and continues to be a main focus of these activities. The following sections describe some of these specific projects.

Abstract: Ergonomic Solutions in Masonry: Regional Differences, Benefits and Barriers

Abstract: Ergonomic Evaluation of Masons Laying Concrete Masonry Units and Aerated Autoclaved Concrete

Abstract: The Impact of Drywall Handling Tools on the Low Back

Powerpoint (pdf): Facility of Choice: A Sustainable Safe Resident Handling Program for LTC

Diffusing Ergonomic Innovations in Construction

Funded by: Center to Protect Workers Rights

LERC Faculty:

    • Marc Weinstein, PhD, Principal Investigator
    • Jennifer Hess, DC, PhD, Co-investigator

Description:

This project, funded in 2004 and renewable annually for 5 years, builds on earlier work by LERC and other CPWR grantees. Prior research has clearly demonstrated the high risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSD) faced by construction workers of many trades. Attempts to modify tools, equipment, and work practices to reduce MSD risk are challenging in construction because of certain industry characteristics. These include the constantly changing worksite, the transience of the workforce, the fragmentation of the industry, and similar factors. As a result the dramatic improvements we have seen in many manufacturing operations through redesign of tools and the work environment have not penetrated nearly as far in construction.

The diffusion project applies the Roger’s diffusion of innovations model, widely used in public health studies, to the study of ergonomic innovations in construction. The model postulates that the effective diffusion of innovations depend both on characteristics of the innovation itself and the current level of penetration of the target audience. In other words, an innovation that is currently being used by only a very small number of firms (innovators) should be diffused by techniques that are different from something that is used by 20 percent of the target group (early adopters). Among the characteristics of the innovation that affect its diffusion are:

    • Relative Advantage – Is there data or other reasons to believe that the innovation presents an advantage in terms of costs, productivity, quality, worker and/or end-user safety?
    • Compatibility – Is the innovation compatible with the current norms and work practices? What are its effects on skills? How is work currently done? Will the innovation displace workers?
    • Complexity – How complicated is the innovation and how different from current practice? Does the innovation require significant worker training? Are workers likely to learn newly required skills quickly?
    • Trialability (Testing) – Can the organization try the innovation without a large commitment of organizational resources?
    • Observability – How easily can someone observe the impact of the innovation? For example, how visible or easily measured is the change?

We will assess a number of ergonomic innovations according to this model in order to better understand factors that facilitate and interfere with their adoption of, for instance, the self-feeding extended-handled screw gun for carpenters. Currently, the research team is assessing a number of innovations in masonry.

Publications:

Weinstein, M., Hecker, S., Hess, JA., Kincl, L. "A Roadmap to Diffuse Ergonomic Innovations in the Construction Industry: There is nothing so practical a good theory," Int J Occup Environ Health 2007; 13: 46-55.

Weinstein, M., Hecker, S., & Hess, JA. "An Action Research Plan to Diffuse Ergonomic Innovations in the Construction Industry." in Proceedings from the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) 2006 Congress, Maastricht, Netherlands.

Best Practices in Ergonomics of Masonry

Funded by: Center to Protect Workers Rights

LERC Faculty:

  • Jennifer Hess, DC, PhD, Principal Investigator
  • Laurel Kincl, PhD, Co-Investigator

Research Partners:

    • Eastern Washington University, Daniel Anton, PhD, Principal Investigator

Description:
LERC has subcontracted to the University of Iowa to work on a Center to Protect Workers Rights project led by Dr. Daniel Anton.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are common among construction workers and masons are among the most affected by these problems. The masonry industry accounts for the second highest incidence rate of all construction trades for injuries with lost workdays due to overexertion involving lifting (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002). The majority of overexertion injuries among masons involve the low back and the upper extremities where musculoskeletal disorders have been associated with exposure to physical risk factors such as repetitive, heavy lifting and awkward postures.

Although engineering, administrative, and work practice solutions exist for reducing exposure to MSD risk factors, many innovations available to masonry are not commonly used. To explore the reasons for low levels of utilization, the Center to Protect Workers Rights held the “Best Practices in Masonry Conference” in 2004 to discuss strategies for reducing MSDs. Commercial masonry contractors, masonry workers, union representatives, safety representatives, and researchers developed a list of currently available engineering, administrative, and work practice solutions. This meeting identified three primary issues related to adoption of ergonomic solutions in masonry: 10 regional differences in use, 2) current utilization levels are largely unknown, and 3) the effectiveness of some masonry innovations for reducing injury risk is unclear. Therefore, the barriers to and acceptability of masonry innovations require additional study and clarification.

Several innovations were identified during the Best Practices conference as most promising. They are 1) equipment: maastclimbing scaffolding, adjustable tower scaffolding, mortar silos, grout hogs, 2) materials: lightweight block, J-block or other open ended block, and 3) work practices: half weight bags of cement, reduced sized pallets, and lift teams when using 12” block.

Investigators at the University of Oregon and University of Iowa are conducting telephone surveys and field audits of masonry construction sites in four U.S. regions: the West Coast (WC), Midwest (MW), Southeast (SE), and the Northeast (NE), to better understand regional differences in use and current utilization levels of these innovations, in order to develop strategies to better disseminate these innovations throughout the masonry industry. The table below demonstrates initial telephone survey findings for regional use of innovations. Most masonry contractors employ 0 to 2 innovations and the Northeast region of the U.S. uses significantly fewer innovations than the other three regions.

Preliminary Telephone Survey Results of Masonry Innovation Use

Innovation (n=156-180)

WC

MW

SE

NE

Total

Use on most/all jobs

%

%

%

%

%

Mortar silo

35.8

31.1

37.8

4.4

27.2

Grout hog

4.0

26.3

39.4

0

16.0

Scaffolding (hydraulic/mechanical)

26.4

35.6

23.7

14.0

25.1

Light-weight block

40.4

36.4

47.4

22.2

36.3

H-block

37.7

11.4

10.5

11.1

18.9

AAC

1.9

2.3

2.6

0

1.7

Reduced size pallets

1.9

7.1

13.9

20

10.3

Half-weight cement bags

3.8

4.7

0

0

2.2

2-person lift for 12” block

18.0

35.7

13.2

28.9

24.0

Publications:

Hess, JA., Weinstein, M. "Innovations Reduce Injuries: Equipment, materials, and work practices are available to protect masons," Masonry Construction, October, 2007.

 

Designing for Construction Safety

Safety through design is a familiar concept in occupational safety and health generally, but it has had limited application to the prevention of hazardous exposures to construction workers. Architects and engineers clearly consider safety in their designs, but the target of their efforts has traditionally been the end user of the facility rather than those who will construct it. This is slowly beginning to change. Research suggests that addressing safety and health hazards in the design and planning phases of construction projects can yield significant improvements in safety and health outcomes for construction workers. LERC’s investigation of a safety in design process called Life Cycle Safety applied on a major semiconductor fab construction project was part of an effort to expand the knowledge base in this field.

This project was a collaborative effort involving the following organizations: Intel Corporation, Hoffman Construction, Industrial Design and Construction, DGI Ergonomics and Safety Leadership Services, the University of Oregon, and Oregon State University’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. In 2000 Intel initiated an expanded effort to apply safety-in-design practices in the design and construction of its latest semiconductor research and production facility (D1D) to be constructed in Hillsboro, Oregon. Prior Intel projects had brought lessons learned forward in a continuous improvement effort. For the D1D project this effort was magnified. Intel’s factory group established safety through all life cycles of the facility as one of its major goals for the project, along with cost, schedule, quality, and other more traditional goals. Intel’s construction services group particularly wanted greater involvement from trade contractors with prior experience building other Intel factories in the upfront programming and design phases. This, they felt, would enhance safety and health during construction and subsequent phases by identifying issues that could be resolved upstream based on past experience.

As this was a pioneering experience, development of tools to implement it and documentation of implementation and outcomes was an important component of the project. The University of Oregon and Oregon Stat University joined the project to bring broader knowledge of safety-in-design research and practice to the group and to conduct intervention research to assess implementation and outcome of the D1D safety-in-design effort.

As an outgrowth of this research LERC hosted an international symposium in September 2003 called “Designing for Safety and Health in Construction” in Portland, Oregon.

Publications:

M. Weinstein, J. Gabatese, S. Hecker. 2005. Can design improve construction safety: Assessing the impact of a collaborative safety-in-design process. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 131(10): 1125-1134.

S. Hecker, J. Gambatese, M. Weinstein. September 2005. Designing for construction worker safety: Moving the construction safety process upstream. Professional Safety 50(9): 32-44.

S. Hecker, John Gambatese. 2003. Safety in Design: A Proactive Approach to Construction Worker Safety and Health. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 18(5): 339-342.

The proceedings of the symposium are also available for purchase:

S. Hecker, J. Gambatese, M. Weinstein. 2004. Designing for Safety and Health in Construction. Eugene, OR, UO Press, ISBN 087114154x

Please contact Marc Weinstein for information about ordering copies of the proceedings.

 

Fitness at Work – Stretching and other Aspects of Worker Health

Pre-work stretching programs appear to be increasing in popularity, in construction and other industries. Anecdotally many claims are made as to the effectiveness of these programs in reducing the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal injuries, but very little systematic research has been published to document these claims. We published a review of the literature on this topic and an article written for practitioners who treat work related musculoskeletal injuries. We continue to explore ways to keep workers healthy. Jennifer Hess presented an update on stretching and fitness at the 2003 Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference in Portland, Oregon. Copies of the PowerPoint presentation and handouts are available by request.

Publications:

J. Hess, S. Hecker. 2003. Stretching at Work for Injury Prevention: Issues, Evidence and Recommendations. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 18(5): 331-338

J. Hess, S. Hecker. 2004. Danger: Men at Work, How Ergonomics Can Make Construction Sites Safer. Biomechanics 11(3): 22-35.