Falls, electrocution, crush injuries, chemicals; the construction site can be a dangerous place. In the first of a two-part article, SCT’s Mario Pierobon reports on fatigue and safety culture.

If one considers the economic output and the number of people employed, construction is among the largest industries in most of the world’s countries. The construction sector is considered a hazardous one because the nature of the working environment comes with risks of accidents and incidents for employees at constructions sites. Human performance and limitations play a significant part in the risk profile of construction operations; in this first part of a two-part story on the subject we shall review the inherent hazards of construction, and the role of fatigue and safety culture in relation to human performance and limitations.

Hazards in Construction Sites

According to Kamal, Ahmad and Ma’arof, in a 2013 academic publication entitled ‘Review on Accidents Related to Human Factors at Construction Site’[i], most events are caused by unidentified hazards around the construction sites and the literature on the subject has documented environmental factors as responsible in most of the cases.

“The researchers found that factors involved in accidents include human behaviour, different construction sites, the difficulties of work, lack of safety culture, unsafe used of machinery and equipment, and noncompliance with various sets of procedures,” they say. “Therefore, it is necessary to consider these risk factors and manage them accordingly to minimize accidents and injuries at construction site.”

In construction there are two major categories of hazards. The first one is related physical injury or physical injury hazards, while the second one is related to ill health or health hazards. The first category is that of hazards that are normally associated with process like scaffolds, ladder, roof work, plant and machinery, excavation, and others; health hazards in construction may be grouped in chemical, physical, and biological hazards, observe to Kamal et al[ii].

Complexity is a critical parameter effecting human performance in the construction site. Complexity refers to the interaction, interdependency, and interrelationship between the various elements in performing the task, according to Samarth and Prabhat in a 2019 academic paper entitled ‘Study of human reliability in construction of infrastructure projects’[iii].

“Complexity weighs both the task and the dynamic construction work environment in which it is to be performed. The more difficult the task is to perform, the greater the chance for human error. In general, a task with greater complexity requires greater skill and comprehension to complete successfully,” the researchers say.

Role of Fatigue

In a construction site, human performance is also negatively influenced by fatigue. The environment that characterises the sector increases the probability of fatigue, which may consequently result in incidents and accidents. Awkward work postures and long daily working hours are only two aspects that characterise this sector. If a person is in a state of fatigue, the physiological energies will be reduced, this means that there will be less resources available. Therefore, managing the resources available efficiently increases the efficiency in task completion and in human performance, observe Fang, Jiang, Zhang, and Wang[iv] in a 2015 academic paper entitled ‘An experimental method to study the effect of fatigue on construction workers’ safety performance’. 

‘Effort regulation’ explains that fatigue can affect the effort to allocate resources in order to meet the task demands, explain Fang et al. “So, the decline of effort level, rather than the availability of resources, is the reason for task performance impairment caused by fatigue,” the researchers say. “Fatigue is identified as an influencing factor to applied capability (e.g., fatigue may reduce the overall capability, so as to increase the probability of errors). […]. Certain cognitive tasks can be designed to simulate the actual construction work, and the errors when performing the tasks are also able to be captured.”

Safety Culture

Safety culture is an area of an organisation operating in the construction business that can be invested to raise awareness on human performance and its limitations. “Overall safety culture can be described as a set of beliefs, norms attitudes and social technical practices that are concerned with minimizing the exposure of individuals, within and beyond an organization, to conditions considered dangerous or injurious,” Kamal et al say.

In the construction business, according to Kamal et al, the factors that frame the safety culture consist of site conditions, site tidiness, availability of technical resource, inter or intra-group cooperation, control and supervision of work, effectiveness of long-term planning and pay structure.

The safety attitudes among workers are determined by the recognition of beliefs and attitudes that are displayed, according to Kamal et al. A positive safety attitude is an essential prerequisite to eliminate / reduce accidents at a construction site, if techniques such as safety behaviour are to be successful in the construction industry, they say.

Raising awareness on human performance and limitations in construction sites comes with a set of best practices that include recognising the hazards and fatigue and developing a safety culture. In the second part of this story, we shall review additional aspects needing consideration, and specifically work physiology, the characteristics of the workers, and human reliability.

[i] Kamal, I. S. M., Ahmad, I. N., & Ma’arof, M. I. N. (2013). Review on Accidents Related to Human Factors at Construction Site. Advanced Engineering Forum, 10, 154–159. https://doi.org/10.4028/www.scientific.net/aef.10.154
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Samarth Ramprasad. K and Dr. Prabhat Kumar, Study of human reliability in construction of infrastructure projects, International Journal of Civil Engineering and Technology (IJCIET), Volume 10, Issue 05, May 2019, pp. 1087-1104, Article ID: IJCIET_10_05_109, Available online at http://www.iaeme.com/ijciet/issues.asp?JType=IJCIET&VType=10&IType=5
[iv] Dongping Fang, Zhongming Jiang, Mingzong Zhang, Han Wang, An experimental method to study the effect of fatigue on construction workers’ safety performance, Safety Science, Volume 73, 2015, Pages 80-91, ISSN 0925-7535, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2014.11.019