Get Your Construction Solutions from Construction Solutions

The online database offers a list of options for occupational hazards on construction sites.

Susan is the safety officer for a mid-sized electrical contractor in the Midwest. After looking over the injury records for the past five years, she is seeking ways to reduce fall accidents on the job.

One division of Susan's firm does a good deal of work installing exterior lighting. Dropping by a job site unannounced, she finds an employee wiring up a floodlight with a motion sensor while perched on the upper reaches of an extension ladder. Looking to the base of the ladder, she's glad to see he has tied it off, but she is alarmed at the dangerously uneven ground surface. Susan calls the electrician down but understands the real problem: The wireman lacks the right equipment to do the job. In addition, the company probably has many other crews in the field with the same issue.

Fortunately, Susan is aware of the Construction Solutions database. Created by the nonprofit safety and health institute CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, Construction Solutions is a database filled with options designed to neutralize common construction industry hazards. Susan goes to the website and chooses "electrical" for her type of work, then "inspect and use scaffolds and ladders" from a menu of construction tasks.

Offered a list of related hazards, she chooses "fall from heights" and is presented with two engineering-based solutions to her problem: using a ladder leveler to adapt the company's extension ladders to work conditions like these or using a portable lift instead. It seems more practical to outfit all of the crews with ladder levelers than portable lifts, so she clicks on that option. Instantly, she gets not only a complete description of the device, but also links to a half-dozen suppliers. Problem solved!

A Non-commercial Source for Solutions to Problems

The Internet is filled with vendors trying to sell products -- some good, some not so good. And a Google search is hardly the most efficient way for contractors and superintendents to find what they need, when they need it, to keep workers safe. We created Construction Solutions to fill this gap.

For decades, CPWR has been known as the nation's premier occupational safety and health research institution in construction. Through a cooperative agreement with NIOSH, we have worked with university-based scientists and engineers around the United States to develop groundbreaking research on crane safety, ergonomic hazards, fume exposure, and much more.

CPWR launched Construction Solutions in 2008 to bring reliable health and safety information to the desktop of construction industry professionals. Accessed at www.cpwrconstructionsolutions.org, this online database is designed to help contractors find the latest information on safer work practices and equipment. Construction Solutions contains entries on more than 1,000 common hazards and nearly 200 solutions for them, and it's growing every day.

Information in this free web resource is organized by trade and work activities, with links to choose from such as concrete, roofing, or sheet metal & HVAC. Clicking on any given selection will present users with a list of tasks performed within a type of work and specific hazard analyses associated with each task. Finally, each hazard analysis contains links to one or more solutions that can reduce or eliminate the risk associated with the hazard, with the solutions vetted by CPWR experts. But users aren't obliged to follow that path, for the points of entry for the system are virtually limitless.

Imagine John, a masonry restoration contractor who is interested in learning more about controlling silica dust exposure. Because he already knows which hazard he's looking for, he starts by selecting "Silica" and finds a hazard analysis containing detailed information on the potential symptoms and health effects of inhaling silica dust. He's then able to filter his results by the tasks his employees perform. "Chip, scrape and grind surfaces, or joints" is where he finds information on the silica risk associated with that task and selected solutions. He will also find a direct link to CPWR's sister website Work Safely with Silica at www.silica-safe.org, which provides more detailed information on the hazard, plus training materials, regulations, and a planning tool that walks users through developing a plan to control the dust in three easy steps.

In short, these solution pages offer quality, research-based evidence covering risk reduction and productivity. The entries pool information gathered from scientific journals, manufacturer data, and occupational health and safety professionals in the field. Our goal is to provide enough detailed information on available alternatives for users to make informed decisions about the most effective control for their particular job. Users are invited to "pay it forward" by offering reviews of their own (claims that are vetted by CPWR reviewers before appearing on the site, of course).

But Wait, There's More!

Construction Solutions is one of a series of web-based informational resources CPWR has created to offer impartial, well-researched information on health and safety issues in the building industry. These linked sites enable everyone from contractors and safety professionals to workers and medical professionals to find the information they need to reduce injuries and illnesses on construction work sites.

  • Construction Solutions ROI Calculator (www.safecalc.org) is designed to help stakeholders evaluate the financial impact of new equipment, material, or work practice introduced to improve safety.
  • Stop Construction Falls (www.stopconstructionfalls.com) is the flagship site of the Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction. The campaign has brought together CPWR, OSHA, NIOSH, and a host of construction firms and labor organizations to put an end to the number one killer in the building industry. Visitors to the site can view a fatality map showing the extent and gravity of the problem, and when they are ready to take action at their workplace, they can follow links to the appropriate entries at Construction Solutions.
  • eLCOSH (www.elcosh.org) , the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health, is a vast collection of resources in occupational health tailored to those of us in the building sector. Offerings range from research studies to toolbox talk handouts. Many items contain links to appropriate entries in Construction Solutions.
  • Work Safely with Silica (www.silica-safe.org), mentioned earlier, provides a unique "create-a-plan" e-tool that walks users through developing a silica control plan to protect workers from exposure to the deadly dust, as well as the latest information on regulatory efforts, what other contractors and workers are doing to control the dust, training materials, and more. The planning tool provides direct links to information on other CPWR sites, including Construction Solutions.

Consider Sandra, a landscaping installation contractor whose winning bid earned her the contract for the grounds of a small boutique hotel. The plans call for a lot of complicated patios and walkways built with concrete pavers, and she can already imagine the cloud of dust generated by the cutting. That won’t be safe for the crews because the dust will contain dangerous airborne silica, and it won’t be popular in the well-to-do neighborhood around the site, either.

Sandra starts with a visit to Work Safely with Silica to create a dust control plan. She chooses "concrete" as her material and "cutting/sawing" as her activity. This produces a list of five types of controls that can control the dust generated by cutting concrete. She rules out the walk-behind and drivable saws immediately for this job; a hand-held masonry saw is necessary for this sort of detail work. But should she choose one that controls the dust using water or one that does so with a vacuum attachment? Fortunately, there is a link she can choose for "examples of commercially available equipment and controls." In addition to direct links to the tool on the manufacturers’ websites, a video of it in use (if available), and government findings about the type of control, there’s also a link to the information on that type of tool that's available in Construction Solutions. She has all of the information she needs to make her decision.

Please pay us a visit and let us know what industry challenges you'd like to see addressed next in Construction Solutions. And if you're using a smartphone, visit http://consol.mobi/ to access the website in a special format designed for mobile devices.

 

Jean Christophe Le, MPH, is the project content manager for the Construction Solutions database. Jim Platner, Ph.D., CIH, is the principal investigator of the Construction Solutions project funded by CPWR's cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH (OH009762).

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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