Neurophysiological testing for assessing construction workers' task performance at virtual height

Mahmoud Habibnezhad, Jay Puckett, Houtan Jebelli, Ali Karji, Mohammad Sadra Fardhosseini, Somayeh Asadi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Falling from heights is the primary cause of death and injuries at construction sites. As loss of balance has a fundamental effect on falling, it is important to understand postural regulation behavior during construction tasks at heights, especially those that require precise focus in an upright standing position (therefore, a dual-task demand on focus). Previous studies examined body sway during a quiet stance and dual tasks to understand latent factors affecting postural balance. Despite the success of these studies in discovering underlying factors, they lack a comprehensive analysis of a task's simultaneous cognitive load, postural sway, and visual depth. To address this limitation, this paper aims to examine construction workers' postural stability and task performance during the execution of visual construction tasks while standing upright on elevated platforms. To that end, two non-intrusive neurophysiological tests, a hand-steadiness task (HST) and a pursuit task (PT), were developed for construction tasks in a virtual environment (VE) as performance-based means to assess the cognitive function of workers at height. Workers' postural stability was measured by recording the mapped position of the Center of Pressure (COP) of the body on a posturography force plate, and the postural sway metrics subsequently calculated. A laboratory experiment was designed to collect postural and task performance data from 18 subjects performing the two batteries of tests in the virtual environment. The results demonstrated a significant decrease in the Root-Mean Square (RMS) of COP along the anterior-posterior axis during the Randomized Pursuit Task (RPT) and maximum body sway of the center of pressure (COP) in the mediolateral direction during both tests. Also, subjects exposed to high elevation predominately exhibit higher accuracy for RPT (P-value = 0.02) and lower accuracy for HST (P-value = 0.05). The results show that the combination of elevation-related visual depth and low-complexity dual tasks impairs task performance due to the elevation-induced visual perturbations and anxiety-driven motor responses. On the other hand, in the absence of visual depth at height, high task complexity surprisingly improves the pursuit tracking performance. As expected, during both tasks, alterations in postural control were manifested in the form of a body sway decrement as a compensatory postural strategy for accomplishing tasks at high elevation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103143
JournalAutomation in Construction
StatePublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Neurophysiological test
  • Postural stability
  • Task performance
  • Virtual reality
  • Workers' safety at height

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction


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