NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, recently awarded $3.4 million to researchers at Virginia Tech to investigate ways to make the small construction industry in the United States a little safer and possibly more productive.
The plan, says Virginia Tech, is for researchers to develop “the most advantageous work system designs,” by looking more closely at how individual jobs should be designed to improve the entire work system. Specifically, researchers will be looking at systems that can improve productivity, quality, health, safety and job satisfaction at construction companies that have fewer than 20 workers each. Currently over 90 percent of construction companies in the United States are considered “small;” most do not have safety or health programs.
“We are looking at introducing research-based changes to the entire construction system to improve the health and safety of construction workers,” said Brian Kleiner, lead investigator on the NIOSH project, and the director of the Macroergonomics and Group Decision Systems Laboratory and the Human Factors Engineering and Ergonomics Center at Virginia Tech. He and other ergonomists, human factors professionals and safety researchers from Virginia Tech will be assisted by stakeholders from the construction industry including representatives of the National Association of Home Builders, Pulte Homes and Lake Gaston Construction Company.
Projects the researchers are working on include developing a decision support tool for ergonomic construction design, noise and vibration control of hammer drills, and a training needs analysis of informal construction work systems in the small construction industry. The NIOSH funding will also be used to help fund the “Center for Innovation in Construction Safety and Health” at Virginia Tech.