Katelyn N. Hedrick, MA, Clemson University; Sydney R. Begerowski, BA, Clemson University; David J. Schillinger, BS, Pennsylvania State University; Zachary Reilly, Clemson University; Jordan G. Smith, MS, Clemson University; Susan Mohammed, PhD, Pennsylvania State University; Marissa L. Shuffler, PhD, Clemson University

Our research aims to develop a deeper understanding of frontline workers? preparedness to work effectively and efficiently with robots on future construction sites. This will include assessing baseline attitudes and perceptions towards robotics in general, as well as frontline workers’ readiness for change. In addition to understanding the attitudes of frontline workers, we also seek to understand barriers and facilitators that organizational leadership has identified through their experiences on the construction site. We determined it is essential to speak with both frontline workers and organizational leadership as there may be key differences within these populations leading to unsuccessful change. We have taken an abductive approach to ensure we are asking relevant interview questions to the construction context. The finalized list of interview questions was informed both by an extensive literature review and preliminary conversations with industry leading experts.

According to the United States Department of Labor, construction is a sector of work that involves many high-risk tasks that expose individuals to serious hazards consisting of but not limited to falling from heights, electric shocks, and repetitive motion injuries (Construction Industry, n.d.). In fact, there were a total of 79,660 injuries reported by the construction industry in 2019 (Grover, 2021). Even more concerning, approximately twenty percent of worker fatalities, or 1,061 deaths, were reported by the construction industry (Commonly Used Statistics, n.d.). This accounts for one in every five fatalities during the year even though only 6 percent of workers are employed by the construction industry (25 Construction Safety Statistics, 2021). Research has found that the reduction in upfront cost and an increase in technological innovation has made robots a prime candidate to take over frontline workers’ tasks in construction, manufacturing, packing, maintenance and agriculture (Frey & Osborn, 2017). In the construction context, the tasks that robots take over may include those that are repetitive and dangerous to the frontline workers. Despite the potential for the introduction of robots, there is a mismatch between the goals and aspirations of the industry and the slow rate of change (Fernie et al., 2006). More specifically, the construction industry is slow to reform and change is often met with many barriers, even if the change includes clear safety advantages and potentially lifesaving measures. In fact, this issue is so widespread within the industry that researchers have referred to it as ?the plague? (Kagioglou et al., 2000). As such, this research seeks to apply an organizational change perspective to begin bridging the gap between the construction industry and the frontline workers.

To develop a deeper understanding of the specific challenges faced by the industry, we will hold interviews with a minimum of 20 frontline workers and members of organizational leadership. Data collection is underway and set to complete over the summer. The team of researchers will transcribe the interviews throughout the data collection process in order to inform future interviews and ensure we develop a deep understanding of the issues surrounding the implementation of robots. The transcriptions will be analyzed for key themes and considerations will be prepared to present at the conference. We will conclude by developing recommendations that organizational leadership and the industry in general can use to overcome the introduction of robots to reduce injuries in construction workers.

Findings will be prepared to present at the conference and data collection is underway.

The successful integration of robots has the potential to drastically increase frontline workers’ safety. This research marks a crucial step in ensuring the introduction of robots into the construction context will be successful.

It is particularly important for future research to investigate the interplay of the construction context and resistance to change amongst frontline workers and how this is affecting the adoption of robots.

Tags: Applied research, Construction, Empirical study, Hazardous Work Environments and Safety, Workplace Injuries and Illnesses