STRAINS and sprains or musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries have long been seen as a problem in residential construction.
ACC data for 2009–2013 reveals that MSDs were responsible for more than 40% of all claims for the sector. MSDs are also among the most expensive claims, often requiring medical intervention and a long recuperation.
As residential builders are typically self-employed or work for small building businesses, anything preventing them from working affects income and even the viability of the business.
MSDs are so common that they may become accepted as an inevitable outcome, while people new to the industry may be unaware of cumulative risks or unconcerned.
Measures to reduce MSD risk need to also offer improvements in productivity. Information and guidance on injury prevention, therefore, may have little traction unless shown to be of direct benefit to the business.
Builders surveyed about current practices
In 2014, ACC, supported by Master Builders (MBA) and Certified Builders (NZCB), commissioned Massey University’s Healthy Work Group to identify and document practices builders were taking to reduce MSD risks.
A sample of 61 residential builders from Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland were recruited through the MBA and NZCB. About half were business owners, and the other half were employees. Researchers visited the builders on site and asked about:
- MSD risk factors
- what measures they took to address MSDs
- the success of these measures
- any problems they encountered
- how they dealt with the problems.
Most-effective measures identified
The report identified 164 measures under headings relating to activities in the organisation of work, building practices and work equipment. For each measure, there is an indication of how many builders raised it, whether there is research support and researchers’ views on the potential measure to reduce injury risk.
The findings represent the builders’ voices. They reported what was effective, or would be, and have continued with because they have a positive impact on their business.
The dominant issue to emerge was that risk reduction was secondary to saving time, money or materials. The point was consistently made that, in most situations, ideas on preventing harm had to make business sense to be considered.
Measures then rated by feasibility
The 164 measures were then rated by four builders from MBA Northern Region on their feasibility of being implemented by builders (either high, medium or low). Measures that were rated high by the builders as well as high by the researchers are shown in Table 1.
Hopefully, ACC and the building associations will continue to use the report to inform their injury prevention programmes.
Some final thoughts
It is important to note that:
- no one measure is more important than others – many are required to address handling risks, and not all will have been identified in this study
- the representation of builders for the whole sector is unknown, and risks may be different between labour-only builders and company owners
- the most effective strategies are for organisational-level measures, involving expert opinion and engaging all stakeholders
- for many measures, there are productivity advantages and a reduction in MSD risk.
|MEASURES RATED HIGH BY BUILDERS FOR FEASIBILITY AND HIGH BY RESEARCHERS FOR POTENTIAL TO REDUCE MANUAL HANDLING INJURY RISK||HOW MANY RAISED IT|
|1. Contract planning and work scheduling|
|2. Relationships with suppliers and subbies|
|3. Site planning and maintenance|
|4. Health and safety culture and processes|
|5. Load sharing and teamwork|
|6. Materials design and delivery|
|7. Training and techniques for safe manual handling|
|8. Mechanical assistance for heavy lifting or moving|
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the 65 builders who took part in the study and MBA and NZCB for access to their members. To read the report, visit www.researchgate.net/publication/278991052.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.