Efficiency and Engagement: how RMIT University and Fonterra engage more construction workers in health and safety

by Alison Maloney

Over a number of years, a project team at RMIT University has undertaken safety, health and well-being surveys on construction sites around Australia and New Zealand using Echo360’s polling solutions, unearthing a lot of interesting insights along the way. As part of the project, the University has partnered with companies like Fonterra to assist them in both data collection and data analysis, with the objective of improving the work environment and outcomes for the company and its employees.

From the outset, the University team found that undertaking data collection digitally rather than via paper forms resulted in faster and more accurate data collection – and the survey respondents enjoyed the experience a lot more. The digital experience transformed the survey into an engaging and group-oriented activity. As Associate Professor Rita Zhang from RMIT University observes, construction workers are used to team-based work and so the opportunity to participate as a team – while responding as an individual – makes a difference.

Associate Professor Rita Zhang explains the impact of peer influence and group-based engagement on her research. 

Steve Nevin, Major Capital Project Risks Manager at Fonterra in New Zealand, pointed out  that one of the primary challenges the dairy co-operative faced was a noticeable lack of balance between work and personal life. Many of the workers were involved in projects located in remote areas and, by the time they returned to their families, they had little time and energy left for them.

The plan was to create a workplace where employees could recharge and socialise. These work spaces are envisioned as villages, where people can meet and greet and even conduct meetings in outdoor spaces, significantly improving their well-being and ensuring that they could then return to their personal lives with more energy. With the environments in place, and the support of RMIT researchers, Steve conducted the surveys, looking for indicators of a positive work environment.

Steve Nevin, Major Capital Project Risks Manager, explains why clickers for polling still make sense for Fonterra and a field of work such as construction.  

Measuring and maintaining safety standards throughout a project can be challenging. What can feel like a strong culture of safety before a project begins can become different under the timeline pressures and shifting priorities in the middle of a project.  By surveying workers at various times throughout the dynamic process, unique insights can be captured on perceptions to evolving conditions.

Not only is the nature of construction a challenge for collecting accurate data, there are also challenges around the time it takes to collect data and a worker’s ability and willingness to participate. Plus, RMIT University found that the site’s workers were unwilling to use their own mobile devices to respond to the health and safety surveys – they feared that using their own device would mean that they could be identified, that there could be repercussions if they said something negative in their responses. As a result, the University decided to not only use Echo360’s polling software for data collection, but to use our clickers (also known as ‘response cards’) as well. Using clickers removes any concerns that workers may have about anonymity, privacy, and security.


Zhang explains why guaranteeing anonymity is so important for encouraging engagement in the safety surveys.  

For the RMIT and Fonterra project, clickers provide a simple intuitive interface for a diverse range of workers with varying levels of literacy, and some even struggling to read. As Steve reminded me, there are lots of really clever people on construction sites, however many of them did not enjoy school and using a format that is more engaging is critical.  With facilitators in the sessions to read the questions aloud, literacy levels are no longer part of the equation and participants simply press a button to record response.

Using clickers is fun. One of the surprising benefits of using clickers is that it made the data collection sessions engaging and enjoyable with participants embracing the process as a group activity that also continued to foster a sense of community. Many construction workers are talented comedians on their own, says Steve, and the clickers offer the opportunity for people to come together during the process, work together in groups and opens up the conversation a lot more than other forms of survey.

The use of the digital survey together with physical clickers in construction is a testament to how simple yet effective solutions can drive progress and contribute to safer, more positive work environmen