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Making the invisible visible: Stimulating work health and safety-relevant thinking through the use of infographics in construction design

Helen Lingard (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Nick Blismas (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
James Harley (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Andrew Stranieri (Federation University, Melbourne, Australia)
Rita Peihua Zhang (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Payam Pirzadeh (Centre for Construction Work Health and Safety, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 19 February 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the potential to use infographics to capture, represent and communicate important information to construction designers, such that it improves their ability to understand the implications of design choices for construction workers’ health and safety.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on information obtained through a photographic Q-sort, supplemented with a literature review, health and safety information related to the design of a façade was collected from subject matter experts. This information was used to develop infographics representing the subject matter knowledge. A facilitated workshop was then held with 20 design professionals to engage them in a hazard identification process using a case study scenario. The designers were provided with the infographics and asked to comment upon how the infographics changed their assessments of the health and safety risks inherent in the case study building design. A sub-set of participants was interviewed to explore their perceptions of the impact and usefulness of the inforgraphics.

Findings

Infographics were developed at different levels of detail, representing potential health and safety issues associated with the site location and surroundings, the construction site environment and the detailed façade design. Workshop participants identified a number of potential health and safety issues associated with the case study scenario. However, this number increased substantially once they had viewed the infographic. Further, the health and safety issues identified when participants had access to the infographic were more likely to be less visible issues, relating to ergonomic hazards, procurement or the organisation and sequencing of work. The workshop participants who were interviewed described how the infographics enabled them to make a more global assessment of the health and safety implications of the case study building design because it helped them to understand the design in the physical construction site context. Participants also favoured the visual nature of the infographics and suggested that this format may be particularly useful to communicate important health and safety information to novice designers with limited on-site experience.

Research limitations/implications

The infographics developed in this research were relatively simple two-dimensional representations produced and presented in hard copy format. It is possible that more sophisticated forms of infographic could have produced different results. Thus, it is important that future research develops different types of infographics and rigorously evaluates their effectiveness in developing designers’ health and safety-related knowledge and improving decision making.

Practical implications

The results indicate that simple infographics can help design professionals to better understand the health and safety implications of design decisions in the context of the construction site environment. In particular, the infographics appear to have increased designers’ ability to recognize less visible health and safety-related issues. The designers interviewed also described the potential usefulness of the infographics in design workshops as a tool to stimulate discussion and develop a shared understanding of the health and safety aspects of a particular design decision or choice.

Originality/value

The value of the research lies in the development and evaluation of infographics as a tool supports the integration of health and safety into design decision making. The potential to develop these tools into digital or web-based resources is also significant.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Australian Research Council under Linkage Project Grant No. LP120100587. Grateful thanks are extended to Dr Ruwini Edirisinghe who facilitated the research workshop.

Citation

Lingard, H., Blismas, N., Harley, J., Stranieri, A., Zhang, R.P. and Pirzadeh, P. (2018), "Making the invisible visible: Stimulating work health and safety-relevant thinking through the use of infographics in construction design", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 39-61. https://doi.org/10.1108/ECAM-07-2016-0174

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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