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Release: Oct. 16, 2002

UI researchers receive grant to improve construction industry ergonomics

The University of Iowa Labor Center and the UI College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health have received a Susan Harwood Training Grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The grant was one of only 20 awarded nationwide from a field of more than 230 applications.

The $170,000 grant will fund a yearlong program, "Ergonomics Education for the Construction Industry." The education and training program will target industry decision-makers, including union and management representatives, as well as job skill and safety trainers. It will present the components of an effective ergonomics process and help participants recognize musculoskeletal disorders, identify ergonomics hazards and develop solutions.

The directors of the joint project are Dan Holub, acting director of the UI Labor Center, and John Rosecrance, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of occupational and environmental health. Rosecrance has conducted numerous research studies of illnesses and injuries among construction workers over the previous decade. According to Rosecrance, disorders such as low back injuries are a significant problem for construction workers and lead to enormous personal and financial burdens. Also, disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) have a significantly greater prevalence among construction workers than among occupational groups commonly associated with CTS, such as computer users.

"This program will demonstrate how ergonomics principles can be applied to reduce injuries and illnesses, improve the quality of work products, enhance production methods, and improve the quality of work-life for the construction worker," Rosecrance said.

Holub noted that the project targets an industry that has not been a focus of OSHA, adding, "Our program is focused on employers that employ fewer than 250 workers because, according to economic census data, they make up 99.8 percent of the nation's 'construction' establishments."

The Labor Center is located in the UI's Division of Continuing Education. Since 1951 it has provided union officers, stewards, members and workers with a wide range of non-credit educational programs. Faculty in the UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health conduct research and training on factors in the work environment that affect the health of individuals, groups or populations. The department places special emphasis on rural environmental health, including agricultural health and safety.

The Susan Harwood Training Grants are named for the former director of the Office of Risk Assessment in OSHA's Health Standards Directorate. During her 17-year tenure with the agency, Harwood helped develop OSHA standards to protect workers exposed to blood-borne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and lead in construction work.