The literacy levels of construction workers are low relative to other industries, and yet prescriptions about how to work safely are often buried inside long and complicated documents.
Our research suggests workers may not even read these documents before they commence work. Also, no matter how complex they are, documents cannot cover all eventualities. There’s a gap between the way work is described in formal health and safety documents and the way it is practised on site.
Visual methods, including video, can overcome some of these difficulties. For a long time videos have been used to communicate health and safety information to workers. But safety training videos are often produced by technical experts or media companies and shown to workers in stand-alone presentations. In such uses, workers are passive audiences to generic video materials.
Construction companies are legally required to consult workers on health and safety issues, but this is often done in a very formal top-down way, rendering it meaningless.
This is a missed opportunity because construction workers possess a wealth of knowledge based on their practical experience, often gained over many years. Research conducted at RMIT University (undertaken in partnership with Melbourne-based firm CodeSafe Solutions) examined the potential for digital and mobile technologies to be used to access, capture and share workers’ health and safety knowledge.
Digital and mobile technologies are now an integral part of everyday life. Using a smartphone to capture and share knowledge, experiences and ideas in video format is not only possible, but now second nature to many. The research shows it can also improve construction workers’ health and safety.