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Serious building accidents are the most common in small businesses

Published: 5 May 2017

The Swedish Work Environment Authority has made a compilation of international research on risks and safety in the construction industry, an industry which, unfortunately, tops the accident statistics. At Luleå University of Technology, Professor Jan Johansson, together with a research team, received the task of compiling international research on risk factors and risk prevention in the construction industry. The results are clear.

– We have discovered that the likelihood of accidents with serious consequences in the construction industry is more common in small businesses and that the likelihood of accidents is at all higher among subcontractors, says Jan Johansson, a Professor in Industrial Work Environment at Luleå University of Technology.

Language degradation causes construction workers' accidents

In conjunction with a press conference in Stockholm, Friday May 5, the Swedish Work Environment Authority, presented its staggering fresh knowledge of international research on the construction industry. The study is based on 401 research articles that are mainly derived from the construction industry in Europe, Canada, USA, Australia and Japan.

At the press conference, Professor Jan Johansson, was involved in informing about the results of the research team in Luleå, under the heading: Risks and safety work in the construction industry. One of the team's conclusions after studying international research in the field is that the construction industry, regardless of country, is highly affected by accidents. In addition, there is a greater risk for construction workers to be accidents if they do not master the language at the construction site.

– Labor with lack of language skills tend to be more and more more serious accidents than others, says Jan Johansson.

Photo: Katarina Karlsson
Researchteam at Luleå University of Technology: Maria Johansson, Kjell Rask, Leif Berglund, Magnus Nygren and Jan Johansson. Absent: Björn Samuelsson och Magnus Stenberg. Photo: Katarina Karlsson

Preventative safety work a profit for the company

At the same time, the research team at Luleå University of Technology (Jan Johansson, Leif Berglund, Maria Johansson, Magnus Nygren, Björn Samuelsson, Magnus Stenberg  and Kjell Rask) finds that management's motivation and commitment to security issues are important for the safety of the construction site. Preventative safety work has an impact on the health of workers and can also be an economic benefit for companies. Significant international research shows that the key to a high level of security is that there are trustworthy relationships between individuals and between different functions at different levels of the organization. A good safety environment contributes to safety behavior and education increases people's understanding of their own responsibility for security work. However, a problem with security work may be that staff lack motivation for education, for example due to lack of personalization.

Photo: Tomas Bergman
Jan Johansson, a Professor in Industrial Work Environment at Luleå University of Technology Photo: Tomas Bergman

– In most countries, the younger age groups are overrepresented in building accidents, but accidents are becoming more serious at rising ages. The increased experience that follows with age can´t adequately compensate for the age factor, says Jan Johansson.

Research also shows that efforts in the form of security programs in the construction industry should last for a longer period of time to be effective. Programs that contain behavioral change techniques appear to be more successful than programs that only convey information and education. It is important that management is security-oriented and that executives and subcontractors are involved in the programs. Programs that contain a combination of the majority of accident prevention strategies are more successful than those with only a few strategies, as well as authorities, party organizations and the industry cooperating in the programs. All involved should understand the program's content, purpose and idea and responsible management should take the conflict when the program is not complied with.

A need for more gender research

Jan Johansson and his research team are now looking at a number of areas of improvement in international research on building accidents. For example, there is no research on the use of black and gray labor and how they affect  safety and the working environment. There is no research on accidents in the construction industry based on a more sociological perspective, where the perspective is extended to, for example, interviews about how an accident occurred and there is a lack of applied research on integrated systems that includes subcontractors. More research is required about the role of the construction worker and the projectors in the work environment work and there is no applied research on good practice in the work environment work. In Sweden there is only done some research on building accidents.

–There is also no gender research, and studies that differ between women and men are also of poor quality. The basic problem may not be the lack of research but rather the lack of women in the industry, says Jan Johansson.

Jan Johansson

Jan Johansson, Professor

Phone: +46 (0)920 491412
Organisation: Human Work Sciences, Humans and Technology, Department of Social Sciences, Technology and Arts