NIOSH Construction Compendium

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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Summary Statement

One-page summaries of over 100 NIOSH-supported construction safety and health research projects in 2002.


Robert Herrick

AFFILIATION: Harvard University (617) 384-8803

CONSORTIUM: CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training

Serve as the focus for quantitative and qualitative research in the full range of issues affecting the construction workforce.

The Center will engage faculty, researchers, and students from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Trade Union Program, and other programs at Harvard University, as well as extramural collaborators such as the Maine Building Trades Council and the Boston School of Management. Faculty will be drawn primarily from the Department of Environmental Health, the Harvard Trade Union Program, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Center will serve as a link between these administratively independent units to foster collaborative arrangements that cross organizational boundaries. The Center will promote the purposes of academic programs, interdisciplinary research projects, and outreach.

The theme of the Center is the integration of policy, engineering principles, and environmental and workplace issues and strategies, with a particular emphasis on human health. A wide range of topics will be studied, such as high-performance building technologies, the management of capital budgets and investments as a factor in construction technology, the economics of labor in modern construction, and holistic approaches to the conception, construction, and operation of "green" buildings. A major goal is to facilitate productive interactions between researchers and practitioners in basic and applied science, engineering and architecture, urban planning, public policy analysis and administration, and construction management.

The work of the Center will be conducted at two sites: the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, and the Harvard University Trade Union Program, Cambridge, MA.

KEYWORDS: Policy, intervention, management, engineering, architecture, planning, high-performance buildings


RESEARCHER: Fred Feinstein

AFFILIATION: University of Maryland (301) 405-2729

CONSORTIUM: CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training

Development of a Construction Policy Research program to study the effects of construction activities on societal values such as health and safety, quality, cost efficiency, and community development.

RESEARCH SUMMARY: Construction industry contractors, subcontractors, contractor associations, project owners, architects, engineers, safety specialists, construction-related procurement officers in federal and state governments, building trade union members, and university researchers have joined together to discuss how the Construction Policy Research program could best serve the construction community and generate ideas for program projects. An advisory committee has been established to represent the broad range of construction industry interests.

Two research tasks have been developed as part of the program.

Workers Compensation:
Meetings were held with the key players involved in the administration and development of policy for the Maryland workers' compensation system. These meetings led to a better understanding of particular interests and concerns about the system in the region. After examination and discussions about the system and its data sources, participants in these meetings have agreed that a significant problem exists concerning the adequacy of the data collected by the system and that deficiencies in the existing data make it difficult to assess system effectiveness. Project staff determined that initial research will focus on examining Maryland's data collection system to determine what changes might be made to assure that sufficient data exist on which to base proposals for policy reform. As part of this work, the workers' compensation data collection systems in other states will be examined to provide a context in which to examine the Maryland system.

Best-Value Contracting: Construction contractors have begun to recognize that the traditional method of low-bid contracting has significant limitations and that the results have often failed to satisfy customer (and their own) needs. Low bids can contribute to poor quality, delayed schedules, accidents, cost overruns, and high accident rates. "Best-value contracting" is an alternative approach that permits project owners to make decisions based on the value of materials and work instead of price alone. Under this bidding method, contracting officials evaluate and select contractors on the basis of key performance and quality factors, including safety records, as well as cost. As a result of project work, a survey is being drafted to collect data on the use of best-value contracting and the different types of systems used. A research and analysis plan will be devised to assess the effect of best-value contracting on several major performance criteria, including safety.

Best-value contracting, worker's compensation data, construction policy development


RESEARCHER: Peter Hoonakker

AFFILIATION: University of Wisconsin-Madison (608) 263-2520

CONSORTIUM: CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training

PURPOSE: Establish a multidisciplinary Construction Policy Research Center (CPRC) applying Quality Management (QM) techniques and principles, human factors engineering, and industrial and construction engineering approaches to occupational safety and health in the construction industry.

RESEARCH SUMMARY: Trends in the safety community suggest that Quality Management (QM) or Total Quality Management (TQM) principles can provide an appropriate framework for improving worker safety and health. A growing body of industry experience also supports the effectiveness of the QM approach to safety and the correlation between quality and safety performance.

Many companies that adopted QM have benefitted from the unexpected side effect of lower injury and illness rates. For example, safety team members at a Georgia Gulf plant in Delaware City, DE, reported a downward trend in both incidents and quality problems since 1989 when the "Use Your Head To Erase All Dangers" program was initiated. Another example comes from the Phelps Dodge copper mine in Morenci, AZ, which, after changing its management approach, tripled its copper production per employee while reducing the number of injuries sevenfold. A QM process implemented by Texas Instruments to enhance contractor performance and overall savings achieved the following outcomes: a reduction of reworking from a level in excess of 11% to less than 1% of project value, improved safety and health among workers, and reduced workers' compensation insurance.

The implementation of QM principles, practices, and techniques has the potential to benefit quality and productivity, but also to improve occupational safety and health. The building and construction industry could benefit tremendously from lessons learned in other branches of industry. However, it has become clear that it will not be easy to implement QM in the construction industry. Special tools and techniques need to be developed, especially to integrate QM with safety and health procedures. The CPRC will develop an agenda and a program of applied research to safety systems with QM and construction management processes.

The CPRC's first year objectives include—
  • Further development and definition of ties to construction companies and unions,
  • Building networks, structures, and interfaces among all participating parties,
  • Planning education programs addressing integrated safety systems applications to the construction industry,
  • Presenting education programs in a variety of ways, including college-level engineering courses and short courses, and
  • A pilot study using QM techniques and principles in the building and construction industry. KEYWORDS: Occupational safety and health, safety systems, Quality Management
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