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Center for innovation in construction safety & health research.

Kleiner BM; Babski-Reeves KL; Burdisso RA; Casali JG; Granata KP; Johnson M; Madigan ML; Mills TH; Nieto A; Nussbaum MA; Shewchuk JP; Smith-Jackson TL; Songer AD; Wakefield RR
Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH), U19-OH-008308, 2010 Sep; :1-534
This project focused on identifying the needs and barriers that influence the ability of small construction companies to conduct worker safety and health training. Small construction companies make up a large proportion of the construction industry, and account for a significant number of injuries and fatalities. In addition, small companies (less than 11 employees) that have informal organizational structures and that tend to employ family members and close friends are often overlooked in accident research because they are not required to report data to the Bureau of Labor Statistics unless selected randomly from among all businesses that do not fall under the authority of CFR 1926. Thus, the knowledge domain relevant to small construction firms consists of a number of gaps, including a lack of a general understanding of the nature and structure of the work systems and work environments used by small construction firms. There is also a lack of knowledge on the use of safety training or safety interventions, safety climate and workers' perceptions of risk and safety, and potential safety barriers related to the prevalence of close familial ties or friendship ties within these informal work systems. This research effort was focused on identifying the barriers and understanding the needs. The research effort began with an analytical assessment of the small construction industry, with a focus on companies with 20 or fewer employees. The Macroergonomics Analysis and Design method was used to identify attributes that either support or hinder the use of safety and health training within small companies. Several important factors were identified that impact the safety environment. These included low literacy rates, language barriers, time pressure, lack of information on safety, and very few resources and time for formal training. It was also discovered that there were very few formal lines of authority among small contractors, so safety information was diffused in an unorganized way with no verification of who received safety information and what information was communicated. These were barriers we considered when developing interview questions for the next phase of the study. Ninety construction workers in small construction firms that were predominantly populated by family members and close friends were interviewed, and companies employed 2 - 10 employees. In addition, four focus groups of family-based construction companies were conducted as well. These interviews and focus groups revealed a number of work-family and family-work conflicts that served as barriers to safety in the workplace and that could interfere with formal training, given a pattern of owners being perceived as the source of the problem. But also, about half of the construction workers preferred working in a family-based environment and found it to be helpful in facilitating safety. In addition, the types of hazards experienced by small firms to some extent paralleled those reported by national BLS statistics for all construction firms. One striking finding was the high degree of poor safety attitudes and the extent to which employees reported "bosses" and time pressure to be the main barriers to training and practicing safety in the workplace. In general, the focus groups supported the same findings. The final study was a prospective study where employees were given incident logs to report on-the-job information related to safety. Fourteen construction workers in small family-owned businesses completed logs for 4 weeks. The logs indicated a pattern across worksites. The main barriers to safety on the workplace included the requirement to work during illnesses or medical problems, having no personal protective technologies (i.e., fall protection harnesses), worksite clutter, and time pressure. This research has revealed a need to develop effective informal training mechanisms to ensure workers can be trained in small construction firms within a context that fits their informal organization structure, and the significant barriers faced by the nature of their work that is mainly influenced by time, resource, and personnel constraints.
Construction; Construction-industry; Workers; Safety-education; Health-programs; Training; Injuries; Traumatic-injuries; Accidents; Risk-factors; Sociological-factors; Humans; Men; Women
Brian M. Kleiner, Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) 250 Durham Hall (0118), Blacksburg, VA 24061
Publication Date
Document Type
Final Cooperative Agreement Report
Email Address
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
NIOSH Division
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Performing Organization
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division