Encouraging construction companies to adopt innovations to reduce MSDs using different knowledge transfer techniques


Key words: Knowledge Transfer; Construction; MSD

Timeline: 2009 - 2012

Researchers: Desre Kramer (Principal Investigator, University of Waterloo), Philip Bigelow (University of Waterloo), Peter Vi (Infrastructure Health and Safety Association), Enzo Garritano (Infrastructure Health and Safety Association), Richard Wells (University of Waterloo)

Funder: Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)

Project type: External grant

Partners: WSIB, Infrastructure Health & Safety Association/Construction Safety Association

Sector/workplace type: Construction sector

Theme 3 Risk assessment and hazard identification
Theme 4 Interventions
Theme 5 Implementation


The broad research objective was to examine whether the intensity of knowledge transfer (KT) techniques has an influence over construction companies’ decisions to adopt innovations to reduce the risk of MSDs.

Research question/objectives/methods

There were a number of discrete objectives including: building collaborative research; nurturing ergonomists to gain expertise in construction; evaluating innovations; using multiple techniques to disseminate innovations, involving organizations, and groups in diffusing the innovations.

This multidisciplinary team used diverse methods which reflected their skill sets. The researchers surveyed workers, assessed the technical reliability of tools, interviewed workers, managers and opinion leaders, conducted focus groups and engaged in academic programmes. In total the team contacted more than 2,500 individuals, multiple companies and unions and some training programmes.

Key findings

To modify work practices for health and safety purposes it is critical to recognize the economic pressures. Health and safety must be married with productivity and quality issues. For this work environment a hands on approach to KT is critical. Both employers and workers are most receptive to knowledge if they can experience the process or use the tools.

To be an effective knowledge broker, a researcher must understand the environment. Our most effective work resulted from the use of existing networks which went beyond traditional worker and employer groups.

Implications for the prevention of MSDs

Effective KT benefits workplaces either by decreasing MSDs while not affecting productivity, or by benefitting both.

Knowledge dissemination

Construction fact sheets

Journal articles:

  • Carlan, N., Kramer, D., Bigelow, P.,  Wells, R., Garritano, E., Vi, P. Digging into Construction: Social networks and their potential impact on knowledge transfer. WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, 2012, 41(1).

  • Kramer, D., Bigelow, B., Carlan,  N., Wells, R., Garritano, E., Vi, P., Plawinski, M. Searching for a Needle in a Haystack: Identifying innovations to prevent MSDs in the construction sector, Applied Ergonomics, 4:577–584, 2010.

  • Kramer, D., Bigelow, P., Vi, P., Garritano, E., Carlan, N., and Wells, R., (2008) Spreading good ideas: A case study of the adoption of an innovation in the construction sector,  Applied Ergonomics, 40,826–832.

For more information

Contact: Richard Wells