Image Courtesy of CII
New hazard-recognition tools incorporate this visual memory aid, which associates various dangers with particular energy sources.

At the Construction Industry Institute's conference in Orlando, Fla., from July 29 to Aug. 1, researchers studying workers' inability to recognize jobsite hazards unveiled findings that showed formal methods of better defining and communicating dangers can greatly improve what the group calls a "foundational skill."

"Hazard recognition is a core competency upon which all other safety processes are built," states the group's report.

Using past research and their own field studies, the CII team documented that, on average, workers are regularly able to identify less than half of all jobsite dangers, which the group defined as "a condition or action that has the potential for an unplanned release of, or unwanted contact with, an energy source." A fall, for instance, involves an encounter with the energy force of gravity. The association of hazards to various energy sources is critical, researchers said, because it aids long-term memory.

Observing 18 crews working on two projects, the team—made up of academics, contractors and owners—first measured workers' ability to locate dangerous items in the field by themselves. Later, researchers "intervened" with one of three different tools: a virtual jobsite for crew training, a safety-planning tool, and a visual-cue-based jobsite board for identifying hazards. "All three strategies were designed to improve workers' ability to recognize and communicate hazards in their work environment," says team member Matt Hallowell, an assistant professor in the construction engineering and management program at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Each time, researchers reported significant increases in hazard recognition. One worker group, for example, was able to identify just 27% of all hazards before using one of the tools but saw its rate jump to 79% after using the tool. Overall, CII researchers say the use of just one of these tools should increase hazard awareness by "at least 28%."

The findings shocked the researchers. "We would've been happy at the beginning with 3% to 4% improvement," Hallowell said. "But these values are really incredible. We're very surprised."

Productivity Handbook

As it completes six years of research, another team has produced a Construction Productivity Handbook, which will be available from CII in September. It synthesizes "volumes of research and bodies of knowledge about the factors that influence productivity, practices used on jobsites to control it, and challenges to accurately measuring productivity in a consistent manner to provide useful industry metrics," the team reports. Dan Christian, co-chairman of the team and director of oil, gas, chemical and power markets for Victaulic, said, "We didn't find a magic wand or a silver bullet." But researchers did improve productivity by implementing the best practices developed in safety, materials management, systems integration and automation, team building and constructibility.

The team found several innovations improved productivity by up to 50% with equal or better overall cost impact than conventional alternatives. Christian pointed to quick-connect systems for piping, formwork and structural steel; self-consolidating concrete; and advanced scaffolding and formwork systems.