To encourage the elimination or reduction of conditions constituting hazards to the safety or health of U.S. construction workers, and to promote the maintenance and improvement of safe and healthy working conditions for workers in the construction industry;
- To publicize the results of research findings, and to make them widely available to construction industry owners/users, employers, associations, unions, workers, academia, government , and others with an interest in construction industry safety and health;
- To provide training resources and technical services to apply research findings at the work site and to direct research in defining and addressing issues of importance to workers.
- To conduct research concerning the quality of working conditions; the social, economic, and psychological factors influencing work organization; the impacts on workers and working conditions of new technologies and industry change; and analyses of corporate and government policies and consensus standards that affect the worksite.
In 1990, CPWR began a series of cooperative agreements with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the CDC. The agreements, based on a competitive application process, have focused on occupational safety and health in construction, with an eye to building a “safety culture” industry wide – safe and healthful working conditions along with lowered costs and improved industry productivity.
The effort is essential because of the excessive level of work-related injuries and deaths in construction, compared with other industries in the United States and with construction in some other industrial nations. Despite the economic downturn, in 2010, 802 workers were killed by occupational injuries in construction, 17.1% of all workplace deaths – more than in any other industry in the United States. The levels of lung diseases and cancers from exposures to silica, asbestos, solvents, and other toxics are believed to be high, too, but have been difficult to document because of the time lag from exposure to the appearance of symptoms.
The Research Consortium
From the beginning, to help address the issues and find solutions, CPWR has led a consortium of experts at universities, government agencies, unions, and corporations (project owners, contractors, and insurers). Collaborating organizations include Colorado State University, Duke University Medical Center, Harvard School of Public Health, Yale Occupational & Environmental Medicine Program, Rutgers University, University of California, Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts – Lowell, University of Iowa, and Washington University in St. Louis. View list of Research Consortium members here.
From Observation to Implementation and Training
In the first years, the research consisted of statistical analyses combined with observations in the field and interviews with stakeholders. CPWR and its partners sought to identify the most pressing hazards and outcomes, in the form of illnesses, injuries, deaths, and related costs. Costs include the financial burden on contractors and workers. But costs also include personal stresses connected to demands of the work, such as the industry’s typical on-and-off employment. Then there are burdens on injured or ill workers’ families and the larger society, which provides support through workers’ compensation and social programs.
All along, CPWR has worked closely with its Construction Economics Research Network, consisting of more than 20 labor and health economists and social scientists. Valuable input has been received also from labor-management organizations and researchers in other industrial nations who, in 1990, had done more to address work-related musculoskeletal disorders and some other problems than had been done in North America.
As the issues have been better defined, the emphasis has shifted from observing trends to application: defining best practices and helping to implement them. Consortium participants have been working closely with construction contractors and workers to develop practical solutions for concerns ranging from noise to silica in masonry, the hazards of nail guns, and falls from steel decking. Proposed new approaches are continually field tested. Findings are presented at conferences, stakeholder meetings, in publications such as technical reports and pocket cards for workers and contractors, and on the Internet. As an outgrowth of the statistical effort, CPWR produces The Construction Chart Book every 5 years, the only such document focusing on the industry, which details the industry in terms of economics and safety and health. Where applicable, the knowledge gained is incorporated into training materials – in English and Spanish – that are disseminated through more than 3,500 safety trainers affiliated with the Building Trades unions. To ensure the effectiveness of the approaches, CPWR and outside experts are formally evaluating training and other programs.
The years since 1990 might be summarized this way:
1990-1994: Define the problem and set a research agenda
1995-1999: Define best practices for the industry
2000-2004: Practical research and dissemination of findings
2005-2009: Intensify targeted research and dissemination
2010-2014: Emphasis on research to practice