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Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Construction Workers | | Blogs | CDC

Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Construction Workers | | Blogs | CDC

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC twenty four seven. Saving Lives, Protecting People

Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Construction Workers

Posted on  by Emily Warner, MA and Jack Lu, PhD, CPE

In October 2017 the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Cross-Sector program published the first blog in a series to highlight musculoskeletal health research at NIOSH. With spring just around the corner, this blog—the fourth installment in the series—will discuss how best to promote musculoskeletal health and reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among construction workers.
Construction workers—individuals who build, maintain, and renovate our nation’s roads, sewers, bridges, houses, and workplaces—are at particularly high risk for developing MSDs because they are frequently exposed to hazards such as manual lifting and material handling, repetitive motions, vibrations, and inconsistent working conditions1. A recent NIOSH study has shown that among 22 major occupational groups, the highest prevalence estimates of both frequent exertion and frequent standing occurred within the construction industry2According to The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), construction workers lose 39% more time from work than workers in all private industries3. NIOSH has conducted substantial research to help prevent MSDs among construction. Examples of some of that research follows.

NIOSH Resources (chronologically listed by publication date)

Manual lifting is an essential part of construction work. In 1993, NIOSH researchers developed and published the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (RNLE) for estimating physical demands for manual lifting. Many companies and labor groups base their weight limits on the NIOSH RNLE (e.g., General Motors, Automotive Industry Action Group) (https://www.lhsfna.org/index.cfm/lifelines/april-2014/five-useful-apps-for-construction-laborers/) (https://uaw.org/health-safety/ergonomics/). Stakeholders requested expanded procedures for assessing complex manual lifting jobs, for which NIOSH and international collaborators developed two new methods for assessing complex lifting jobs—the sequential lifting index (SLI) and variable lifting index (VLI).
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Lifting Equation mobile application, NLE Calc, is a tool to calculate the overall risk index for single and multiple manual lifting tasks. This application provides risk estimates to help evaluate lifting tasks and reduce the incidence of low back injuries in workers.
This NIOSH document suggests many simple and inexpensive ways to make construction tasks easier, more comfortable, and better suited to the needs of the human body.
NIOSH researchers conducted a field investigation of biomechanical loading when using three common techniques to tie together reinforcing steel bar (also called ‘rebar’). Using a power tier, which that automatically cuts, wraps, and ties the rebar, significantly reduced the hand-wrist and forearm movements. The powered device allowed the ironworkers to use a free hand to support their trunk posture while tying; furthermore, it was twice as fast as using pliers.
This NIOSH document contains actual workplace cases along with a short section on other types of nail gun safety and ergonomic hazards.
This NIOSH document provides basic information about readily available work practices and equipment that can help both new and experienced workers, contractors and builders prevent serious manual material handling injuries.
The NIOSH Construction Program provides national and world leadership to prevent work-related illness, injury, disability, and death by systematically gathering information, conducting targeted scientific research, and translating the knowledge gained into products, solutions and services tailored to meet construction needs.
The NORA Construction Sector Council seeks to facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice.

CPWR Ergonomics Guides and Checklists

NIOSH has collaborated with CPWR on research projects as well as ergonomic information dissemination. CPWR is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit construction safety and health research and training arm of the North America’s Building Trades Unions, AFL-CIO, which represents 14 international/national building trades unions and more than 3 million workers. Its website is one of the best resources for finding ergonomic guidelines, checklists and tools for construction ergonomics. Several NIOSH-collaborative products are listed on the website such as Ergonomics Guidelines for Manual Materials Handling, Simple Solutions and Ergonomics Principles for Safe Mining.

Recent Research Initiatives

NIOSH research to identify and prevent MSDs in construction embraces green construction and recent advances in robotics and automation. NIOSH helped to develop a pilot credit for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) building certification that promotes the use of Prevention through Design (PtD) methods throughout the construction process4. The NIOSH Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) was recently formed to provide scientific leadership to guide the development and use of occupational robots that enhance worker safety, health, and wellbeing5. The recent blogs on exoskeletons and robots in the workplace discuss the pros and cons of the new technologies. NIOSH and other professionals must continue to evaluate new technologies to help ensure that workers are protected.
We would love to hear from you in the comment section below about how you have used NIOSH musculoskeletal health research to promote musculoskeletal health and address musculoskeletal risk factors in the field of construction. If you have questions or concerns related to the material in this blog post that you would like to bring to our attention, please leave your comments below.

Emily Warner, MA, is an ORISE Fellow in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.
Jack Lu, PhD, CPE, is a Research Ergonomist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and Manager of the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Cross-Sector Program.

Missed the first three blog installments in the Musculoskeletal Health Research at NIOSH series? Read them now:


  1. National Institute for Workplace Safety and Health. NORA Sector Councils: NORA Construction Sector Council. Updated December 1, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/councils/const/
  2. NIOSH Science Blog: Frequent Exertion and Frequent Standing Among US Workers. Updated January 16, 2018. http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2018/01/16/exertion/
  3. Dale AM, et al [2016]. Evaluation of a Participatory Ergonomics Intervention in Small Commercial Construction Firms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331880/
  4. National Institute for Workplace Safety and Health. Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Safe, Green, and Sustainable Construction. Updated August 15, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/greenconstruction/default.html
  5. National Institute for Workplace Safety and Health. Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Robotics. Updated September 11, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/robotics/aboutthecenter.html
Posted on  by Emily Warner, MA and Jack Lu, PhD, CPE

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