Study tests ways to increase uptake of ergonomic innovations

In brief

  • Opinion leaders and workers in the construction sector can reach beyond their workplaces to inform others of ergonomic innovations.
  • A barrier to the adoption of ergonomic innovations in the construction sector remains the lack of awareness of soft-tissue injuries (musculoskeletal disorders).

Published: January 2009

Why was this study done?

Ergonomic innovations in the construction sector could potentially reduce soft-tissue injuries or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which represent 35 per cent of the sector’s injuries in Ontario. However, introducing change is difficult because of the ever-changing nature of construction work. This study aimed to find out if “opinion leaders” — influential people from companies identified as respected trend-setters — might be a good way to promote new health and safety ideas within this complex sector.

How was the study done?

Researchers identified an innovation that could reduce the risk of MSDs — hydraulically operated, drop-down ladder racks that allow workers to move ladders on and off van roofs without putting as much load on their backs and shoulders. Researchers then identified “opinion leaders” in the construction sector who agreed to let selected workers use these hydraulic lifts. Workers were interviewed about their use of the lifts as well. The opinion leaders also agreed to talk about the lifts at health and safety meetings with peers.

What did the researchers find?

Opinion leaders helped spread the word about the lifts in two ways. They told other decision-makers in their company and talked to 32 company representatives at health and safety meetings. In surveys after the presentation, peers said that the lifts sounded like a good idea, and that they valued hearing about real-life experiences. Interestingly, the study showed that workers also played a key role in getting the word out. All 36 workers who participated said the lifts were a big improvement over manual racks and willingly demonstrated them to co-workers and workers from other companies. That said, the ability of opinion leaders to convince others in the sector to make ergonomic changes is impeded by a number of barriers. Many of the opinion leaders said they did not believe MSDs were an issue in their sector, did not feel qualified to manage ergonomic problems, were frustrated by their inability to influence ergonomic improvements in the construction environment, and/or were concerned about costs (mostly in larger companies).

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

One weakness was that the number of companies and workers taking part (13 and 36 respectively) was lower than expected. However, the researchers belong to centres that use established knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) strategies - such as building strong relationships with workplace decision-makers – and this study built on this approach.