Journal article

Developing safety cooperation in construction: between facilitating independence and tightening the grip

Behavioural insights Construction industry Occupational health and safety Regulatory compliance Denmark

Cooperation about safety and joint responsibility between managers and workers is one of the cornerstones of health and safety work. However, attempts at ensuring safety in the workplace run the risk of focussing on formalities and compliance rather than on joint engagement in safety. Drawing on an understanding of safety as practice, this study attempts to empirically unpack the difference between cooperation as engaging with local knowledges and the disciplining of unsafe behaviour. The research involved an ethnographic study at two large construction sites in Denmark and follows empirical examples of how safety breaches are identified, catalogued, and revealed later on at safety meetings. Managers saw this as an attempt to engage the workers. However, the workers saw this as a punitive way of criticizing their work at a distance. They felt that this practice of moving safety from the construction site and in to meeting rooms ran counter to aims of establishing engaging and effective safety practices close to the work. Efforts to engage workers in safer ways of working should therefore acknowledge the integrated nature of safety practice and the value placed on independence, discretion and negotiation when developing cooperation about workplace safety.

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