Construction is one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. Back injuries occur at a rate 50 percent higher than the average for all other US industries, according to 1999 federal figures. In 2005, construction employers reported 35,900 work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) that resulted in one or more days away from work for injured employees. A recent prestigious award by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recognizes that many of these injuries can be prevented with ergonomics initiatives on the construction site.
The 2008 Alice Hamilton Award in the Educational Materials Category was given to James T. Albers of the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and Cheryl F. Estill of the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies for the 2007 booklet, "Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Construction Workers" (www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-122/pdfs/2007-122-full.pdf).
The booklet notes that some of the most common construction injuries are the result of job demands that push the human body beyond its natural limits. Workers are at risk of MSDs when they are lifting, stooping, kneeling, twisting, gripping, stretching and reaching overhead, or working in other awkward positions. Common WMSDs include back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
For example, ironworkers tying rebar are at risk of hand-wrist disorders and low-back injury. The work requires repeated, fast hand and arm movements while applying a lot of force. If tying at ground level, workers must work in a stooped position, with the body bent deeply forward. The recommended solution is a rebar-tying tool that reduces the common risks because it eliminates the frequent and rapid hand motions required when using pliers. And some rebar tiers can be used standing up, which reduces strains on the back.
An important goal of the publication, according to the authors, is to provide practical, cost-effective solutions. All of the measures are readily available and have been used on working construction sites. The booklet, designed for on-site use, features tip sheets illustrating the way different tools or equipment may reduce the risk of injury. Each tip sheet describes a problem, one possible solution, the benefits to the worker and employer, and the cost of implementing the solution. Information on locating the tools included in the tip sheets can be found on the Center for Construction Research and Training website, http://www.cpwr.com/simple.html.
The award honors a pioneer in occupational health as a discipline, researcher and physician Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869-1970).