Safety issues in the construction industry

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Safety issues in the construction industry

The construction industry in the U. S. employs approximately 6.7 million people, and has one of the highest numbers of fatalities when compared to other industries (Minchin et al., 2006). According to Wright (1986), working under time pressure to meet deadlines causes workers not to follow safety procedures, which results in unsafe work practices, often leading to fatalities and accidents (as cited by Hofmann and Stetzer, 1996). In reviewing some common themes of industrial accidents, Wright (1986) mentioned time pressure and defective communication systems between supervisors and workers. In regard to supervisor-worker communication, Zohar (1980) noted that the attitude of workers towards safety becomes very casual if they see that their supervisors are not serious about safety. While discussing all the above-mentioned issues, Hofmann and Stetzer (1996) have kept their focus on organizational factors that can affect unsafe behavior. Among other findings, they also found that unsafe behavior was significantly affected by inadequate time, training, and resources.
Employee attitude towards safety has been a major field of research as it is a contributing factor to fatal and nonfatal injuries at high-risk workplaces in general (Lingard and Holmes, 2001; Orlandi, 1986; Williamson et al., 1997; Wuebker, 1986). The construction industry is one that is ever-changing in terms of workforce, with a high rate of employee turnover (Hunting et al., 1999). This is another challenge that general contractors and subcontractors must deal with in regard to safety training. However, this does not undermine the fact that safety training is necessary and that more research is required in occupational safety and health in general. Effective safety interventions can help bring a change in the attitudes and perceptions of people towards safety at the workplace (Williamson et al., 1997). In order to design safety interventions effectively, it is important that the context of the work environment and the dynamics of the workgroup are examined carefully.
One of the goals of this research is to explore small construction companies as sociotechnical work systems and understand the context of work so that an effective training system could be designed. Champoux and Brun (2003) conducted occupational health and safety research in small-size enterprises and reported the lack of resources as a critical reason for the low level of safety practiced in these workplaces. Small-sized construction companies, in contrast to medium or large construction companies, have fewer resources available in terms of finances and technology. Furthermore, non-declaration of accidents is commonplace in these small-scale industries (Champoux and Brun, 2003). With such circumstances in small construction companies, the attitudes of people in general become less concerned with safety. According to Wuebker (1986), most workplace accidents occur because of human error, not unsafe mechanical or other conditions. Ore and Stout (1997) conducted studies that examined laborers in the construction industry. According to them, natural and environmental factors turned out to be one of the 10 leading causes for deaths among laborers in construction. The other main causes were falling from heights and lacerations. Williamson et al. (1997) conducted a study to develop a measure of the safety climate and reported that personal motivation of workers is one of the strongest factors towards practicing safety at workplaces. Hence, it is important that when training systems are designed towards enhancing safety in small construction companies, the workers’ attitude in relation to their environment is considered. The sociological factors of the workplace are important and can significantly affect employee attitudes regarding health and safety at workplaces (Holmes et al., 1999).
The sociological factors of the small construction industry are unique in terms of worker demographics and working conditions. According to Spilman (1988), the construction industry is male-dominated, where most of the jobs are blue-collared, and workers are highly resistant to health and safety programs in the workplace (as cited by Lingard and Holmes, 2001). The education level of most of these workers is low and the level of participation is also low in regards to safety and health issues. Orlandi (1986), and Hollander and Lengermann (1988) have conducted research indicating that small construction companies have fewer economic resources, which may restrict their ability to implement technology to improve safety at the work place compared to the larger construction companies that typically have more accessibility to technology (as cited by Lingard and Holmes, 2001). There are several government websites such as NIOSH ( and OSHA ( that have information on construction safety and health, and occupational safety and health in general. However, as mentioned above, many of the small construction companies lack resources in terms of finance and technology, which makes government efforts to intervene in construction safety and health issues less productive and inefficient.
Another important feature of small construction companies is that a large number are family-owned. Ram (2001) studied the dynamics involved in small family-owned businesses and showed that there is a significant influence of family life on work life when closely related people work together. Eakin (1992) and Gardner et al. (1999) mentioned that there can be adverse effects from close familial relationship ties at work. When supervisors or managers have close social relations with their employees, it can be difficult to exert authority as the effects can go beyond work in personal life (as cited by Champoux and Brun, 2003).
Alcohol and drug abuse have been a major cause of concern at high-risk workplaces, specifically in the construction industry (Minchin et al., 2006; Gleason et al., 1991). According to Gleason et al. (1991), blue-collar job workers exhibited a higher rate of drug abuse compared to white-collar job workers. Gleason et al. (1991) reported data from 1984 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth showing that white men between the ages of 19 to 23 reported the highest use of drugs in the work place. However, Hanse and Jarvis (2000) found that when children work in family-owned businesses, they receive more parental support. Alcohol and drug abuse is reported to be lesser when children work in a family-owned business compared to a private enterprise (Hanse and Jarvis, 2000). Hence, it can be inferred from the above mentioned excerpts that working with family and friends can have a significant effect on work habits, and health and safety at work place.

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User-Centered Design of Interventions

User-Centered Design

For a system to be usable and reliable, it is important that it is designed in the context of its use. DeJoy (1996) reviewed past attempts of research in the area of construction safety and found that the context of work was not considered. The construction industry is one that is ever-changing in terms of workforce and in the case of small construction companies, there is a lack of financial and technological resources (Champoux and Brun, 2003; Lingard and Holmes, 2001). Hence, making interventions that are not easy to use in terms of cost or accessibility is unreasonable. Interventions have to be designed by doing research that involves stakeholders such as NIOSH, OSHA, Insurance agencies, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) manufacturers and dealers, and the end-users (workers of small construction companies). All the aforementioned stakeholders can influence the working conditions acting as external environmental factors for the small construction work system. The sociological factors such as the ones mentioned above, play an important role in the functioning of the workplace (Holmes et al., 1999).

2.1. Why Small Construction Companies?
2.2. Research questions and Hypotheses
3.1. Safety issues in the construction industry
3.2. User-Centered Design of Interventions
3.3. Contextual Design
3.4. Rationale for Contextual Design
3.5. Relationship between CD and MEAD
4.1. Research Methodology
4.2. Participants
4.3. Equipment and Apparatus
4.4. Procedure
4.5. Data Analysis
5.1. Contextual Inquiry (CI) interview data
5.2. Data interpretation sessions
5.3. Design of the training system
5.4. Evaluation
5.5. Final design of the training system prototype
6.1. Reasons for accidents in small construction companies
6.2. Design of the training system
6.3. Feasibility of using the CD methodology
6.4. Limitations of CD
6.5. Applying CD for Construction Research
6.6. Relationship of CD to MEAD
7.1. Future work and lessons learned
7.2. Research conclusion
Design of a Construction Safety Training System Using Contextual Design Methodology

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