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Interventions to Improve Safety Climate and Ergonomics In Construction SME

Ann Marie Dale 
Washington University, St. Louis
Email: adale@wustl.edu

Abstract: This project was designed 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. It focused on small- and medium-sized construction subcontractors (SC), who often lack resources to establish and maintain effective safety programs. It studied 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 combined a descriptive aim with a unique interventional aim that assessed the impacts of integrating ergonomics safety assessment and training into the overall safety management system of a large GC. Efforts to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are most often envisioned as stand-alone or “add-on” programs rather than being integrated into overall safety and health management. We evaluated whether better assimilation of ergonomics into overall safety efforts increased awareness of MSD hazards, decreased ergonomic risks, and reduced musculoskeletal injuries and disorders among the SCs working for a large GC.

Aim 1 of our project explored 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 addressed 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 evaluated the effectiveness of incorporating ergonomics into an overall construction safety management system on promoting changes in MSD prevention behaviors. We studied the transition from a standard “Focus Four” safety program to a new “Focus Five” program in a large local general contractor  planning to expand itscomprehensive safety program to include ergonomics as a standard program element. We expected 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-sized construction companies have high rates of injuries and fatalities, but limited resources for safety and health programs for their workers. This project evaluated the top-down effects of general contractors’ safety requirements on workers in small- and medium-sized companies, and evaluated improvements in prevention of musculoskeletal disorders resulting from integration of ergonomics into an overall construction safety management program.