09 March 2010
Prestigious US grant boosts construction OHS research
Construction safety is the focus of a five-year research project at RMIT. Image © iStockphoto
RMIT University researchers are joining a five-year project with a prestigious US institution to investigate innovative approaches to improving occupational health and safety in the construction industry.
The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has made an award to the Center for Innovation in Construction Safety Research at Virginia Tech, which is involving RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management in part of a set of important research projects.
NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US Department of Health and Human Services, works to prevent work-related illness, injury, disability by conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness.
Head of the School, Professor Ron Wakefield, said the prestigious NIOSH award to Virginia Tech, a portion of which supports this global collaboration, was recognition of RMIT’s cutting-edge work in the crucial area of construction OHS.
“Construction is one of Australia’s highest risk industries, with an alarming rate of 7.8 compensated fatalities per 100,000 employees – compared with 2.5 in other industries,” Professor Wakefield said. “Still, the Australian rate is better than the US rate, which is a major reason why the US researchers wish to see how to adopt or adapt innovative methods to significantly improve OHS for American workers.
“There is emerging evidence that a ‘whole industry’ approach is needed to address the intransigent level of injury, illness and death in construction but despite many efforts, OHS is still not embedded as a consideration from the earliest planning stages to the completion of building projects.
“Our research aims to identify, examine and evaluate ways to better integrate OHS into project decision-making, throughout the project lifecycle.”
The project, titled From finger-pointing to lifesaving: A “supply chain” approach to construction occupational health and safety, will also involve industry partnerships with key building firms in Australia and the US.
“Collecting data here and in the US will enable international benchmarking, allowing knowledge and good practice in OHS to be shared between researchers and industry participants in both countries,” Professor Wakefield said.
A team of RMIT researchers led by Professor Helen Lingard, Professor Wakefield and Associate Professor Nick Blismas will work on the project to:
- identify how organisational complexity within construction projects impacts OHS;
- examine how fragmented supply chains impede the development of a “unity of purpose” relating to OHS in construction project teams; and
- evaluate how collaborative project delivery mechanisms and procurement methods can support the integration of OHS during the entire lifecycle of a construction project.
This collaborative research effort with Professor Brian Kleiner at Virginia Tech follows Professor Lingard’s ARC Future Fellowship, which was awarded last year to support her work on integrating strategies to improve occupational health and safety in the construction industry.
“This new collaboration will support a further expansion of this critical field of research at RMIT, which is essential to efforts at reducing the almost 10 per cent of death and injury claims in Australia attributed to the building and construction industry,” she said.
The project will involve the use of various research approaches over the five-year funding period, including structured case studies, innovative photographic data collection, and an experimental approach to evaluation that will inform the development of “best practice” in the procurement of safe and healthy construction work.