Participatory Ergonomics in Construction: Enabling Practice-to-Research-to-Practice via the 2SAFE Model
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The complicated nature of work-related musculoskeletal disorders necessitates the collective participation of researchers and practitioners in ergonomic interventions. An ideal participatory process should aim to provide mutual benefits that can be achieved via a practice-to-research-to-practice transition; that is, using practical insights to inform the research followed by implementing the research findings in real-world activities. However, researchers are confronted with various behavior-related challenges when participating in ergonomic interventions in the construction industry, in which practitioners are known to have limited knowledge of ergonomics and low levels of motivation for change. These challenges include a lack of worker involvement, weak commitment on the part of management, and poor communication. To improve the research-practice collaboration during a participatory ergonomics program, researchers need to identify ways of influencing construction practitioners’ decisions and individual behaviors, which essentially determine the commitment and participation of practitioners in the program. This dissertation describes the five-step 2SAFE (Surveillance, Screening, Assessment, Framing, and Evaluation) planning model, which can be used to achieve a practice-to-research-to-practice transition in a participatory ergonomics program. This model was developed by combining the understanding of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the principles of the health belief model, and the typology of research evidence. This theoretical synthesis enables the model to address the following critical questions: (1) How can data collection processes be designed to capture the nature of ergonomic injuries? (2) How can the collected data be transformed into information that practitioners can use immediately to change their behaviors? (3) What scientific contributions can be made during the participatory process? This model was tested empirically during a 39-month participatory ergonomics program as a case study at a commercial roofing and waterproofing company in the state of Washington in the United States. The objective of this program was to develop and apply evidence-based solutions to prevent ergonomic injuries resulting from the handling of material carts. In the empirical case study, a research diary was kept to document the program’s knowledge production process, which was analyzed to determine whether the implementation of the 2SAFE model contributed to the transition from practice to research. Participant observations, documentary information, and interview data were gathered to examine the changes in the intervention stakeholders’ ergonomic motivation and knowledge, the behavioral changes they made, and downstream program outcomes, which were used to verify the model’s efficacy in translating research into practice. The quality of the qualitative data was ensured by data triangulation and member (key informant of the program) checking. The results of the qualitative analysis show that the 2SAFE model helped to collect, frame, and share information to improve practitioners’ perceived susceptibility to risk of injury, perceived severity of an injury, perceived benefits of ergonomic changes, and self-efficacy with regard to ergonomic issues. As a result, practitioner involvement in the program was active and generally voluntary. Decisions regarding the desired ergonomic changes were made by the intervention stakeholders at all levels of the organization. The industry partner’s motivation for change was sustained throughout the program and the partner was also pleased to continue the research-practice collaboration as the members from the partner company recognized the benefits of implementing participatory ergonomics program. Practitioners also contributed to the scientific aspect of the program by providing insights and assistance to co-produce knowledge that enhanced the evidential understanding of how various ergonomic hazards can influence the overexertion risk and productivity during cart handling. The knowledge is immediately transferable and helped construction practitioners make informed decisions when replacing manual equipment and planning material-handling activities. Moreover, practical insights informed the translation of knowledge and improved the actionability, contextually appropriateness, and readability of practitioner-focused ergonomic resources that were created by the program. Lastly, the results of the case study suggested some areas for improvement to develop the model further. Situated at the intersection of construction ergonomics, behavior change, and health science, this dissertation provides a novel theoretical lens through which one can better understand how research-practice collaboration can be improved during a participatory ergonomics program to achieve a practice-to-research-to-practice transition. The 2SAFE is a business-centric model providing steps that can be implemented to encourage practitioners to embrace ergonomic changes in their organizations and to participate in the scientific inquiry process to strengthen the research enterprise. In the long term, this model will lead to high-quality interventions that combine scientific discovery with the resolution of real-world issues to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders, ultimately making construction sites a safer workplace.
- Built environment