Oregon State University to Lead Construction Safety Research with New Facility

OSU will soon take the lead on construction safety for workers. The university will build a new research facility, with help from Knife River and MDU Construction Services Group 

By Sara Elliott, Associate Editor | April 17, 2015
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Jesse A. Lora, NAVFAC (SW)
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Jesse A. Lora, NAVFAC (SW)

Each year, thousands of construction employees are injured or killed on the job due to safety issues. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013.


The most common cause of death among construction workers is known as the “fatal four:” falls, being struck by an object, electrocutions, and being caught in or in-between pieces of equipment. Lack of safety knowledge or violation of OSHA standards is usually the culprit. OSHA reported that its most frequently cited standards violations were for failure to protect construction workers from falls and scaffolding injuries.


In an effort to combat the risk of injury to workers in construction, Knife River Corporation and MDU Construction Services Group have  joined forces with the College of Engineering at Oregon State University to develop one of the world’s leading facilities for improving safety for construction workers and the general public.


The college is located in Corvallis, Ore. According to the university, a $1 million grant from Knife River and MDU will help support the creation of the facility, which will be called the MDU Resources Group Construction Safety Laboratory.


“This lab establishes us as the principal national facility for construction and transportation safety research and education,” said Dean and Kearney Professor of Engineering at the OSU College of Engineering Scott Ashford.


The facility will allow the school to continue to advance jobsite processes and technologies that will work to prevent injuries to workers on the job.


Once completed, the lab will boast two areas for the creation of a virtual construction environment to help students replicate real-world job sites. Included will be an interactive, high-definition projection system that will allow users to perform sample work operations without putting workers in dangerous situations that could cause injury. A connected driving simulator to evaluate driver and worker actions when vehicles drive through a work zone will also be built at the facility.


Oregon State University first began its initiative to improve worker safety in construction when it encouraged “prevention through design,” a concept that considers safety at the design stage in order to make roadways, bridges, and buildings safer to build and maintain.


“There’s a long history in the construction industry of architects and design engineers leaving construction safety up to the builder or contractor, saying it wasn’t really the designer’s concern,” said John Gambatese, an OSU professor of civil engineering, leader in this new movement and a national expert in construction design and safety.


As the construction industry continues to become more environmentally friendly, OSU researchers and experts believe an increase in safety protocols will result, especially following the U.S. Green Building Council’s pilot “prevention through design” credit to the sustainable building rating system.


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