Robin Baker painted a vivid picture of the health and safety disparities in the construction industry during her workshop in June 2012, The Hard to Reach in Hard Hats: A Research to Practice Initiative. Baker, director of Research-to-Practice for COEH and CPWR (The Center for Construction Research and Training), joined a panel of experts invited to Fort Collins by Colorado State University to accelerate research translation with vulnerable worker populations.
Construction remains the most dangerous industry in the United States. Employing only 8% of the workforce, it accounts for 22% of all work-related deaths and approximately 400,000 occupational injuries annually.1 Construction-related fatalities and injuries have declined significantly in recent years, however, partly due to the research programs of the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH).2
Beginning in 2005, NIOSH contracted the National Academies to review 15 key areas of their operation, including the Construction Research Program. The final report released by the National Academies in 2008 found “the program has made meaningful contributions to improving construction worker safety and health.” They rated the Construction Research Program five out of five for relevance and singled out the acceleration of research to practice (r2p) as a high priority for the future. It was against this backdrop that CPWR recruited Baker, one of the foremost r2p experts in the health and safety field, to develop its new r2p initiative.
“The Fort Collins conference reflects NIOSH’s commitment to translation of high quality science into practical solutions that are widely adopted in the workplace,” says Baker. ”They see an opportunity in construction to explore possible models for building better dissemination pathways and better partnerships with the end-users of our health and safety research. The hope is that the approach may pave a pathway for other sectors as well.”
Despite the wealth of safer construction tools and equipment developed by CPWR’s Research Consortium and others, Baker’s presentation revealed the challenge of transferring these advances into the end-users hands.
“We can’t just focus on the vulnerable worker. They have the least protection and voice in the workplace and are unlikely to be the ones who can initiate change,” says Baker. “We really need to focus at the employer level, while understanding that often small contractors themselves are a hard-to-reach and vulnerable population.”
Baker highlights the national Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction as an example where CPWR has been effective in bringing together diverse partners in the construction community to support a vital r2p initiative. The campaign (http://stopconstructionfalls.com) is cosponsored by OSHA, NIOSH, CPWR and a host of labor and industry partners who are part of the NORA Construction Sector Council.
Falls are the leading cause of work-related injury and deaths in the construction industry. In 2010 there were more than 10,000 construction workers injured as a result of falling while working from heights on the job and another 255 workers killed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The campaign provides an opportunity to pull together the best of evidence-based solutions—the best information we have about preventing ladder falls, about working safely on scaffolds, about working on roofs and using fall-prevention devices—and to spread awareness of these resources as a model for dissemination,” reports Baker.
CPWR is hosting an International Symposium on Safety and Health in the Construction Industry at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, from October 16-18, 2012. To register: http://www.issaboston2012.org/register.html.
For more information about the Workshop on Research Translation with Vulnerable Worker Populations, visit http://www.r2p.colostate.edu. Presentations will be posted soon, including a keynote address by former Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) Coordinator of Public Programs, Pamela Tau Lee on the Asian workforce. The struggles facing this vulnerable population were brought to light by LOHP’s Chinatown Restaurant Worker Health and Safety Project (see also COEH Bridges, Winter 2012).
1CPWR website, Construction: a Dangerous Industry, http://www.cpwr.com/r2p/ConstructionFatalities.pdf.
2Executive Summary, Construction Research at NIOSH: Reviews of Research Programs of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12530.html.
CPWR hosted a Construction Industry Technology Transfer Symposium in May 2012. Initiated by Baker and colleagues, the aim of the symposium was to develop models for the diffusion of new technologies that benefit worker safety and health.3
Baker moderated a panel discussion on lessons learned about technology transfer in the field of construction. David Rempel, professor of Medicine at UCSF and director of Ergonomics at the University of California, presented findings from an overhead drilling project conducted by the Ergonomics department. He was one of seven panelists in the session and is a member of CPWR’s Research Consortium. The panel presented a range of case examples (pdf) of successes and barriers in moving from research to development to commercialization of safety innovations.
“It was by reviewing Rempel’s work on the overhead drill that we began to think about the problem of technology transfer,” explains Baker. “Even when you have researchers inventing better, safer tools, trying to get them to market is, in most cases, very difficult. We are interested in seeing if there is any way to help facilitate the process.”
3CPWR Background paper prepared for the Construction Industry Technology Transfer Symposium, http://www.cpwr.com/r2pTechTransferandDiffusionbackgroundpiece.pdf.
In June 2012, David Rempel chaired the tenth Marconi Research Conference attended by forty researchers and company representatives with an interest in office ergonomics. According to Rempel, “The goal of these meetings is to bring new office ergonomics research findings to industry so that their early adoption can improve the health and productivity of employees.” Researchers benefit by hearing about the current office health and productivity problems that industries are dealing with. This year researchers from the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Germany presented. The meeting is sponsored by the Office Ergonomics Research Committee, a collection of companies that includes Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Apple, Steelcase, Herman-Miller, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, CNA, Dell, Synaptics, Ergotron, and Genetech. The research presented at the Marconi Conferences has influenced health and safety programs at companies and product design. The designs of the currently popular split keyboards and asymmetrical mice were influenced by research presented at these meetings. Most of the Marconi Conferences have been held at the Marconi Center at Tomales Bay.
Find this article and others online at http://coeh.berkeley.edu/bridges