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October 2, 2003

Simulating Safety and Risky Behavior

Today was another of those days in which I just grin right out loud about what an interesting life I get to live. After taking Alex to school, I met with Ken Walsh, a newish faculty member in Engineering, who is very much into the use of simulations for teaching construction management. We've worked on a couple of grant proposals over the last year but no joy yet. He showed me a model he's developing in StarLogo showing accidents at a construction site. Immensely cool! We brainstormed ways to make the model better reflect the psychology of the construction workers, the different ways they perceive and evaluate safety hazards, the (necessary?) tradeoff between being careful and being productive... interesting stuff, once you get into it... and potentially important.

Thinking about how you would get construction workers to articulate what's going on in their head when they decide to reach over to the next girder without unhooking and re-hooking themselves up reminded me of the Repertory Grid technique, a tool that has fascinated me for years. It allows you to uncover the unconscious dimensions along which each person uniquely organizes their perceptions of the world. Turns out there have been studies using this tool to peer into workers' heads and clarify their risk-taking behavior. We're going to push forward on this to see if the computer simulation can take this into account. I'll be recruiting some 670 students to work with Ken as a course project. Cool, cool, cool!