Health Trak is a participatory approach that involves construction workers and management, as well as occupational health researchers, in identification, evaluation and control of health hazards. Each eight-week Health Trak cycle has three key components: 1) participatory committee meetings with worker and contractor representatives, 2) toolbox meetings with workers on-site, and 3) participant observation. Ergonomic hazards, such as those that may lead to musculoskeletal disorders, were the primary focus of Health Trak, though sanitary facilities and noise were other health issues that were covered. Five Health Trak cycles were completed as part of this project. In the first cycle, the participants identified the lack of sanitary facilities as the health hazard for study. Though an intervention was not implemented, the efforts of this committee have had a profound impact on the local industry. In the second cycle, the committee focused on ergonomics and was somewhat successful in implementing interventions to control manual material handling hazards. The third cycle examined ergonomic hazards associated with the assembly of gang forms for concrete structures. The Committee delineated numerous hazards associated with this operation and also proposed many potential solutions. One of these solutions, improving laydown areas for materials and equipment, was implemented. The fourth cycle was unique, as it focused on noise. It was more of a focus group discussion of hearing protection rather than a true application of the participatory methodology. No intervention was implemented. The fifth cycle was similar to the third, this time examining hazards associated with a large stage of reiterating concrete structure construction operations. Like in the third cycle, the Committee delineated numerous hazards associated with this operation and also proposed many potential solutions. Two of the proposed solutions were developed further: 1) a box to be used as a platform for work above shoulder height and 2) a plywood walkway for working on rebar mats. The box was implemented, but, because of numerous obstacles, the walkway was not. Similar walkways have been observed on other sites. The results showed that Health Trak had one very important strength and one very important limitation. The major strength was the ability of the committee to identify hazards and propose potential interventions to control the identified hazards. This was primarily the result of having stewards and foremen on the committees. The major limitation of Health Trak was the inability of the process to get controls implemented. The primary barrier appears to be the culture of construction where no one seems willing to take ownership of improving health. The workers have the knowledge but feel they do not have the power and are willing to put up with the status quo. The managers have the power but are unwilling to spend money unless they feel it is necessary.
Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, One University Avenue, Lowell, MA 01854 USA