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Published: Fall, 2003; Vol 5, Num 3

 

Washington Ergonomic Project
Addresses Concrete Construction

To assist LIUNA members and signatory employers improve ergonomic performance, the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) joined local partners in Washington in a construction ergonomic collaboration that, now, is producing tangible results.

New Ergonomic Tip Sheets
For Concrete Construction

  • Hand trowels
  • Concrete rake handles
  • Rubber boots
  • Insoles for rubber boots
  • Stretching
  • Body mechanics/positioning
  • Slump
  • Teamwork

With a grant from NIOSH via the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR), local unions 242, 440 and 1239, the Washington AGC, the University of Washington, Build It Smart (a labor-management alliance), private safety consultants from Stewart Persont Ergonomics and the LHSFNA visited a number of construction sites and interviewed many Laborers to identify significant “sprain and strain” problems in concrete work. After developing a number of possible responses, the investigators returned to the worksites so that their proposals could be tried and evaluated in real work situations. Based on worker feedback, the collaboration then developed a series of ergonomic tip sheets for concrete construction.

Of particular interest to LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, a recognized expert in ergonomics, is slump. Slump measures the how much a given amount of concrete will sink (or slump) when it is poured into a measured bucket whose sides are then removed. The lower the slump, the thicker the concrete and the harder it is to place.

“Most projects,” says Schneider, “specify an allowable range of slump. In general, we’d like Laborers to work with concrete with the highest possible slumps because this is easier to move around, thus reducing the incidence of back and other muscle strain. A higher slump usually leads to higher productivity as well. With lower slumps, accommodations – more workers assigned, more frequent breaks – should be made.

Photo: Stewart Prezant Ergonomics Group.

“The principle here,” says Schneider, “ is moving safety upstream.Most of the tips we’ve developed so far are implemented at the most basic level of operations – the Laborers, themselves.For instance, they can buy better boots or insoles, stretch properly, use good teamwork and be careful with body mechanics and positioning. However, if the contractor makes an upstream adjustment to provide higher slump concrete, everyone’s workload will be somewhat reduced. At the end of the stream we have to influence a variety of behaviors among a whole group of workers; upstream the decision of one person can improve conditions for many below.”

Part of the impetus for the collaboration is Washington’s newly established ergonomics standard, itself a reaction to the fact that ergonomic injuries are the single largest cause of medical expense and lost work time among workers in the U.S. and Canada. Though the initial focus of the collaboration has been concrete work, other areas of construction also will be investigated.

The tip sheets will be available for distribution this fall from CPWR, NIOSH and the LHSFNA. For information about them, contact the OSH Division.

[Steve Clark]