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Interventions to Improve Safety Climate and Ergonomics In Construction SME

Anne Marie Dale 
Washington University, St. Louis

Abstract: The overall goals of this proposal are to increase understanding of factors that comprise both positive and negative construction safety and health cultures, and to test the effects of changes in construction safety management aimed at improving health and safety. Our project will focus on small and medium sized construction subcontractors (SC), who often lack resources to establish and maintain effective safety programs. We will study the effects on SC of working within safety programs of different general contractors (GC) on commercial construction projects, using leading and lagging indicators to assess how different GC’s safety programs influence the safety culture and safety performance of small and medium SC on their projects. Our project combines a descriptive aim with a unique interventional aim that will assess the impacts of integrating ergonomics safety assessment and training into the overall safety management system of a large GC. Efforts to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are most often envisioned as stand-alone or “add-on” programs rather than being integrated into overall safety and health management. We will evaluate whether better assimilation of ergonomics into overall safety efforts will increase awareness of MSD hazards, decrease ergonomic risks, and reduce musculoskeletal injuries and disorders among the SCs working for a large GC.

Aim 1 of our project will explore the effects of participation in general contractors’ safety programs on the safety performance and safety culture of small and medium sized contractors. By studying safety interactions and impacts on small and medium sized subcontractors (SC) working on larger size construction projects, this project will address interrelated questions posed in the NORA construction safety goals: Can small employers successfully apply flow down safety requirements on large projects? How influential are well run projects for transferring safety skills and practices to small employers? Do changes persist onto other jobs? Do small employers adversely impact project safety performance of other employers?

In Aim 2, we will evaluate the effectiveness of incorporating ergonomics into an overall construction safety management system on promoting changes in MSD prevention behaviors. We will study the transition from a standard “Focus Four” safety program to a new “Focus Five” program in a large local general contractor that is planning to expand their comprehensive safety program to include ergonomics as a standard program element. We expect that safety behaviors related to the prevention of MSD will improve when ergonomics safety assessment and training are incorporated into the overall safety management system of a large GC.

Small and medium size construction companies have high rates of injuries and fatalities, but limited resources for safety and health programs for their workers. This project will evaluate the top-down effects of general contractors’ safety requirements on workers in small and medium sized companies, and will evaluate improvements in prevention of musculoskeletal disorders resulting from integration of ergonomics into an overall construction safety management program.