Exploring Construction Safety and Control Measures through Electrical Fatalities

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Virginia Tech

Globally, construction is considered a hazardous industry with a disproportionate amount of fatal and non-fatal injuries as compared to other industries. Electrocution is named as one of the "fatal four" causes for construction injuries by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the United States, an average of 47.9% electrical fatalities occurred in the construction industry from 2003 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These fatalities include both electrical workers and non-electrical workers. Such a disproportionate rate suggests a need of research to improve construction safety and reduce injuries due to electrocution. However, there is a lack of understanding of causation mechanisms surrounding fatal accidents by electrocution using a systems approach; and there is a disconnection between the mechanism of fatal electrocution accidents and the associated control measures, which may lead to less effective prevention in construction.

This dissertation has three objectives, including: (a) establishing a sociotechnical system model that reflects the electrocution occurrence in the U.S. construction industry and identify the associations among its internal subsystems; (b) determining specific electrocution patterns and associated mechanism constraints; and (c) examining hierarchy of control (HOC) measures and determining their appropriateness.

Findings from his research include: (a) the identification of three system patterns of electrocution in construction work systems and the associations between personnel, technological, organizational/managerial subsystems, and the internal and external environment for each of the three patterns, using a macroergonomics framework; (b) the identification of five features of work, and map out their decision-making chains, critical decision-making points and constraints, as an interpretation of electrocution mechanisms in the workplace; and (c) revealing that behavioral controls remain prevalent in electrical hazard mitigation even though the knowledge of construction safety and health has increased in the past decades, and that the effectiveness of controls is not statistically different by construction type nor occupation.

Based on these findings, the research also suggests corresponding mitigation recommendations that construction managers shall strictly follow HOC rules by giving priority to higher level of controls and upgrading the industry's prevention strategy by introducing more technological innovations and encouraging prevention through design (PtD) strategies.

construction safety, electrical fatality, prevention, risk management