Planning the healthy construction workplace through risk assessment and design methods

Abstract: The construction industry is still one of the highest risk industries as far as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are concerned. These disorders are the most frequently cited injury to workers, affecting many construction workers in Sweden. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are also of immediate concern to the workers and their families who are adversely affected by these injuries. These injuries are a substantial source of economic drain to the construction industry. Sources of this drain include economic losses incurred from lost or decreased productivity as well as workers compensation costs. Therefore, it is within the best interest of the construction industry to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders from occurring, before they manifest into serious issues of medical, social and economic concern. The purpose of the research presented in this thesis is to increase the understanding of how a healthy construction workplace can be realized through best practices and design methods as prevention strategies. The main objective of this thesis is to identify tools used/usable in construction industry to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders among construction workers. In this doctoral research project, literature review and case studies have been conducted in order to investigate five research questions and thus fulfil the research purpose. The theoretical framework in this thesis is made of occcupational biomechanics, health and safety management, risk management of occupational health, construction planning, and design for health and safety. The common denominator shared by these theories is the planning of a healthy construction workplace. The research presented in this thesis contributes both to theory and practice in five different areas: The first area is benchmarking the good construction practices to promote musculoskeletal health; this consists of identifying and describing strategies and activities which have proved to be successful in the fight against the development of work-related musculoskeletal injuries in the construction industry; the results of this study allowed formulation of recommendations substantial to the injury prevention or reduction in the construction working environment. The second area of contribution is the risk analysis of repetitive tasks in the industrialized house construction context; this study resulted into a critical look at risk assessment and analysis of workload in an industrialized construction process, using ergonomic tools, situations of high workload and risk for musculoskeletal injury are identified. The third contribution area is a risk analysis of work tasks in a bridge construction process using prefabrication; the study highlights the benefits of using innovative construction methods such as prefabricated steel reinforcement components and self-compacting concrete; in terms of the construction site environment, improved manual material handling and elimination of vibration adverse effects were the benefits. The fourth contribution area is in a form of a conceptual model which contributes to the theory of design as an injury prevention strategy in construction; this conceptual model is the result of the literature study and site observations perceived as insights for reducing work-related musculoskeletal injuries through designing health and safety in construction, the model presented is built on a participatory design process involving all key stakeholders working as an integrated team, risks can be eliminated, or reduced, by changes in design specification. The last and fifth contribution of the thesis is practical way to deal with the problem of planning for a healthy construction work environment; a case study on different construction projects sought to understand how potential health and safety risks can be identified and their solutions or corrective measures implemented as a coordinated effort of all key stakeholders through design visualization tools. The research results suggest that planning for a healthy construction workplace is possible through the implementation of the industry's best practices of the day, keeping up with the use of innovative construction methods such as prefabrication, yet not taking the health and safety benefits of these methods for granted, thus risk assessment and analysis of workload should remain a requirement in order to provide solutions and communicate them effectively between stakeholders through virtual design.