Researchers, collaborators receive award from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for occupational safety, health in construction

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 3, 2009 – Virginia Tech researchers and their collaborators from five other institutions will soon engage in research on new construction safety and health made possible by a recent award of more than $7 million over a five-year period from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The funding will initially support seven projects involving 19 faculty from six universities and two countries, encompassing an array of critical areas affecting safety and health in construction for our sustainable future.

The grant proposal, supported by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) and the Office of the Vice President for Research at Virginia Tech, was prepared by an interdisciplinary team of researchers and submitted as part of a national competition. Many of the contributors to the proposal are part of the Center for Innovation in Construction Safety and Health (CICSH) at Virginia Tech.

The Center for Innovation in Construction Safety and Health was established in 2004 through a grant from the NIOSH and in affiliation with the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science to bring a truly interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to the practice-to-research-to-practice life cycle.

“As the first center under the umbrella of the ICTAS, CICSH has a special place in our hearts and we are proud to see this center grow to national eminence,” says Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. “We are thrilled to have provided start-up as well as on-going support to the center, thereby providing a strong and constant basis for success.”

Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, observed that “this opportunity is a resounding tribute to our emphasis on interdisciplinary research.”

The overarching purpose of the awarded projects is to integrate an interdisciplinary focus in research that will produce systems capable of enhancing productivity, quality, and efficiency for the construction industry. “This award is the result of the combined efforts of many faculty and staff across a multitude of disciplines, departments, colleges, schools, and universities,” says Brian Kleiner, a professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and founding director of the center. “It reinforces our belief that interdisciplinary research can help address many challenges facing multiple industries.”

A review of the projects is below.

“Effects of Localized Muscle Fatigue on Risk of Occupational Slips and Falls”

Thurmon Lockhart and Maury Nussbaum, both of industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech, are exploring the “Effects of Localized Muscle Fatigue on Risk of Occupational Slips and Falls,” which has a long-term goal of facilitating more effective prevention strategies and design criteria for jobs and working environments to reduce occupational slip and fall accidents.

“This is an opportunity to quantify the effects of muscle fatigue and workplace factors on slip and fall risks, particularly among the aging workforce,” says Lockhart. “It will generate important data to evaluate existing work sites and new interventions for reducing the fall accidents currently plaguing industry,” added Nussbaum.

“20-year Trends in Work-related Injuries and Disorders among Carpenters”

A project led by Hester Lipscomb, of community and family medicine, at the Duke University Medical Center entitled “20-year Trends in Work-related Injuries and Disorders among Carpenters” enhances work-related injury surveillance among an important occupational cohort of union construction carpenters in the state of Washington. “It is unusual to have access to data such as these for any worker cohort, especially construction workers who are hired by multiple contractors over the course of their work experiences,” says Lipscomb.

“Novel Optical Systems for Real Time Monitoring of Welding Fumes”

“Novel Optical Systems for Real Time Monitoring of Welding Fumes” is led by Virginia Tech’s Yong Xu and Anbo Wang, both of electrical and computer engineering, and Zhiwen Liu, of electrical engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.

This study develops three classes of novel optical systems for real-time welding fume monitoring, leading to the capture of optical “signatures” of welding fumes expected to enable a comprehensive methodology for cost effective, real-time and in situ monitoring. “Since welding fumes are one of the three major health hazards affecting construction workers, this study has the potential for widespread application in construction practices ultimately reducing construction worker’s exposure to welding fumes,” says Xu.

“Micro-processes of Latino Construction Workers’ Health: Feasibility of CATS”

Stress on the job likely plays an important role in workplace safety and health, especially in the construction industry. Stress and safety is the primary topic of the “Micro-processes of Latino Construction Workers’ Health: Feasibility of CATS” project.

In this study, Joseph Grzywacz and Thomas Arcury, both of family and community medicine, and Sara Quandt, of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are collaborating with Thom Mills, of building construction; Carlos Evia, of English; and Manuel Perez-Quinonez, of computer science, at Virginia Tech to use Computer Assisted Telephone Survey (CATS) technology to conduct brief daily surveys for 21 consecutive days of residential construction workers.

“CATS technology overcomes language and literacy issues frequently encountered in this worker population,” says Grzywacz. The surveys will cover exposure to job stress, safety behavior, as well as indicators of injury and health. Workers will also be followed for six months after the diary period to evaluate the longer-term health effects of job stress.

“This approach, if effective, will enable better understanding of the role of occupational stress in work-related illness and potential injury among immigrant workers and may serve as a model for future studies in this and other industry sectors who employ a large immigrant worker population,” says Grzywacz.

Prototype decision support system to increase efficiencies and worker health

Residential construction workers are plagued by work-related musculoskeletal disorder related to the use of panelized walls. A Virginia Tech team of experts including Nussbaum, John Shewchuk, and Michael Agnew, of industrial and systems engineering developed a prototype decision support system to increase efficiencies and worker health through design of prefabricated (panelized) wall systems in residential construction. “The use of Prevention through Design (PtD) in the development of our prototype sets the stage for advancing the prototype in the coming work allowing us to facilitate transfer of the system to practical use, quantify the system’s efficacy and effectiveness, and offer new approaches for improved design within and beyond construction,” says Nussbaum.

“From Finger-pointing to Lifesaving: A Supply Chain Approach to Construction OSH”

Practical examination of the barriers to Office of Safety and Health performance during the construction stage and evaluation of the impact of collaborative project delivery mechanisms and procurement methods on the integration and optimization of OSH hazard elimination/risk reduction through the project lifecycle is led by Virginia Tech’s Kleiner, with Helen Lingard, Nick Blismas, and Ron Wakefield, of the School of Property, Construction and Project Management, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.

The project entitled “’From Finger-pointing to Lifesaving: A Supply Chain Approach to Construction OSH,’” is a necessary step toward reducing or eliminating work-related fatalities and costly injuries and illnesses arising from well-understood hazards that may be avoided through adoption of known risk elimination/reduction interventions and solutions,” says Kleiner.

“Dust-control Usage: Strategic Technology Intervention (DUSTI)”

Deborah Young-Corbett, of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction; and Ted Koebel, of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech join Enid Montague, of industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in building upon the findings of previous work to develop an intervention to improve adoption of engineering controls in the construction industry through a project entitled “Dust-control Usage: Strategic Technology Intervention (DUSTI).” Young-Corbett notes that "health knowledge, perceived risk, worker self-efficacy, trust in technology and organizational trust, adoption rediness, and perception of barriers may all be improved post intervention."

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