Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Building safer workplaces for construction workers

Safety audits of 171 construction sites in New Jersey turned up only eight harnesses, which can protect workers from falls, according to an Annual Meeting session on Tuesday that focused on construction worker health and safety.

Only 43 percent of the construction workers wore hard hats, 32 percent wore hearing protection and 34 percent wore eye protection, according to audits conducted in 2010–2012.

Lack of fall protection and shoddy scaffolding were major problems, said presenter Elizabeth Marshall, of Rutgers University.

“Scaffolds, which are used quite a bit in urban construction, were generally poor,” she said. “They seemed to be slapped up with whatever they could think of. There was very little fall protection and there was a mish-mash of platforms.”

Previous research has shown that Hispanic construction workers have a higher rate of injuries, so researchers in Massachusetts set out to create an intervention and training program to try to increase the focus on safety.

Presenter Luz Stella Marín and her team from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell targeted construction supervisors, who have the power to improve working conditions. They conducted pre- and post-testing after a five-hour supervisor training that focused on protective equipment, social support, and non-retaliation against workers who speak up about unsafe workplace conditions.

The training addressed the supervisors’ responsibility to create a culture of safety and taught them how to analyze job hazards and create a safety plan. The training also increased knowledge of how to prevent falls and reduce silica exposure.

Pre-test, the supervisors said they understood silica dangers, but further questions revealed they were actually talking about asbestos and weren’t as informed about silica. Breathing in silica dust, which is commonly found in building materials, can permanently damage a worker's lungs.

In the follow-up survey of contractors’ attitudes toward safety three to six months later, evaluation scores improved 26 percent, Marín said.

“One supervisor said he had never worn hard hats before [our training],” she said.

Following the study, a train-the-trainers program was implemented.

“Now we have 10 trainers who are permanently teaching our program,” Marín said. “We believe that construction safety intervention that is focused on the key people that have the opportunity and power to change the workplace will be most successful. These types of trainings that focus on the construction supervisor help avoid [incidences in which] workers are blamed for injuries [even though] they don’t have the possibility to change their worksite conditions.”

— M.P.


Liz said...

Those statistics from NJ are alarming! And I hope construction supervisors' knowledge of silica dangers will improve as OSHA's silica rulemaking procedure advances.

It's great to see evidence that supervisor trainings can positively influence safety attitudes. With thousands of workers killed and injured on the job each year, it's clear that supervisors' knowledge, attitudes, and practices need to improve.

Jack said...

Always nice to see improvements in construction site safety.