Supervisor Training in Construction Share This OHSU Content

Supervisor training to promote health/safety in construction (Latino+non-Latino)
Kent Anger, PhD (PI)

To be productive, companies need a healthy and safe workforce. Because health promotion and protection are complementary, programs can address both needs, to improve the health of workers and instill safer work practices. While companies must create a setting where work conditions are safe, employee behavior becomes important in improving their own health and working safely.

Why Supervisor Training?
Supervision is the key to implementing workplace programs to address these issues by educating employees and themselves about healthful lifestyles and safe work practices, and motivating their employees to adopt them. However, many supervisors are promoted due to technical knowledge, not supervisor skills, and they have little or no education or training in such skills.

This project promises to bring proven supervisor skills training to construction supervisors in both English and Spanish for both Latino and non-Latino supervisors. It is a translation project designed to package supervisor skills training in a computer-based/online delivered format, teach application of the skills to increase healthy lifestyle behaviors and safe work practices of employees in construction, and make the training available for dissemination.

What skills are we actually teaching?

We teach the supervisor to build a relationship with their employees that allows them to set work priorities that reduce overall life stress, leading to a healthier (less stressed) workforce that maximizes productivity and safe work practices.  The basic skills teach supervisors to interact with their employees one-to-one basis to establish a friendly relationship that includes a knowledge of home as well as work interests so that work priorities can support the employees non-work needs to reduce stress by accommodating competing needs. At the same time, the supervisor is taught to identify those work activities where safety and health need to be improved, to observe and measure those work activities, to explain and illustrate correct (safer, healthier) work activities or work practices, and to reinforce the correct practices and correct the unsafe/unhealthy ones. It is simply direct communication combined with observing skills and positive reinforcement.

Has this worked before?
The skills we teach have worked well in other settings but have not often been taught to construction supervisors, or at least no one has attempted to document the teaching and its outcomes in a scientific manner, and then published it. When we taught these skills to agricultural supervisors, they learned based on their answers in written tests, which we published, and they reported applying those skills in their employees.  However, the application of the skills we taught have not been tested in agriculture or construction.

Is there anything new here?
We have developed a technology that allows supervisors to record or track their interactions with employees and the degree to which they reinforced appropriate behaviors (eg, healthy work practices) or corrected inappropriate (eg, short warmups, unsafe) behaviors.  The recordings take a few minutes a day and are made on Apple iPod Touches (used most often for games), and the results are shown in graphs to supervisors know if they are doing what we taught and if the targeted changes are happening. 

Is this just about safety?

No, that's not all. Although promoting specific safe work practices (health protection) is a part of it.  In addition, we teach supervisors to encourage healthy work practices like changing hands when doing repetitive motion tasks (such as painting) that can prevent hand and arm pain over time. Further, we are asking supervisors to reinforce healthier lifestyle behaviors such as healthy dietary practices (health promotion) of their choosing, in their employees.

Is an employee's lifestyle any of a supervisor's business?
Not everything is a supervisor's business, but some lifestyle choices affect a worker's health and that in turn affects their productivity and effectiveness as part of a work team.  Two of these are eating foods that lead to becoming severely overweight and tobacco use.

What can a supervisor do about lifestyles?
They can reinforce or support good choices, but the employee has to know what is healthy and how to change what they are doing that is not healthy.  For this, we are providing basic information cards about personal health and encouraging employees to form teams to work together to learn this information.  We have activities to make it a little fun and the employers we are working with are allowing work time to learn information.

Who is paying for this?
In the initial year, funded by CROET, the basic tenets of the project will be tested for effectiveness and acceptability in construction supervisors.  A randomized trial design will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the translation from classroom training to workplace in subsequent years.

If it works why spend all the time on research and publishing the results?
Science (research) tells us if we really made a difference that is reliable, and publication of the results tells others so they can use the same methods to improve others.  And it can convince companies to invest in this kind of training because the results are valid and can save the company money ... and help their workforce be healthier.

Our current partners are Fine Painting and members of the Building Trades in Portland, Oregon. Other companies have agreed to participate as we show results and want to expand to other trades.