Special Issue on occupational health and safety

Click here for PDF of this call. First draft submissions (extended deadline) due 30 April 2012.

In many developed and developing countries the construction industry performs poorly in occupational health and safety (OHS). Construction companies have invested heavily in the development of sophisticated OHS management systems which, together with technological innovations, have improved the industry’s OHS performance markedly. However, it is recognized that further improvements in construction OHS require the active engagement and input of all participants in the project delivery process, including clients/owners, design consultants, constructors, suppliers of plant, equipment and materials, workers and their representatives (including trade unions), end users/occupants, facilities and maintenance managers.

The construction industry supply chain is highly fragmented, with many different professional and technical inputs and a complex, hierarchical arrangement of contributors. Arguably, the industry’s structure and culture impede an integrated effort to improve the construction industry’s performance in OHS.

As organizational systems grow they are understood to orientate themselves towards organizational goals through the development of specialized working styles and processes. For a system to remain viable, the functioning of the different system parts (or subsystems) need to be integrated to achieve a unity of effort in achieving the organization’s purpose. Within construction projects the various functional groups can differ in their focus, motivation and interests, which can compromise the unity of effort within and between contributors to projects. This is very apparent in the area of OHS, in which professional groups and project stakeholders have traditionally sought to deflect responsibility for OHS from themselves to other parties and in which functional and professional differences in orientation towards OHS are evident.

The construction industry is characterized by high levels of differentiation which can be broadly classified in the following way:
1. Organizational differentiation exists as a result of commercial and contractual arrangements in which many different contributors to the construction design and delivery process are engaged at different times, under different contracts;
2. Technological differentiation exists because product complexity, market uncertainty and technological innovation have increased the reliance on many different parties to contribute to the technical aspects of design and construction.
3. Cultural differentiation exists as a result of variation in the OHS orientation of different industry participants (e.g. clients, designers, constructors, workers and the end users of buildings and other structures).

Differentiation in the delivery of construction projects is likely to remain a feature of the construction industry. This differentiation presents challenges for construction OHS improvements, but these challenges are not insurmountable. Sustainable OHS improvements may be realised if greater organizational, technological and cultural integration is achieved to create a “unity of effort” with regard to improving OHS in construction projects.

Although attempts have been made to achieve greater integration by creating statutory duties in OHS legislation, for example by the UK’s Construction Design and Management Regulations, the effectiveness of this legislative approach in achieving genuine integration of OHS into ‘whole of project’ decision-making has been questioned. In reality, a sustainable, coordinated approach to improving the construction industry’s OHS performance does not yet exist in the construction industries of most countries of the world.

This Special Issue will draw upon international research findings to examine ways in which the OHS effort can be better achieved through integrative strategies, whether these be (i) organizational (such as project alliancing), (ii) technological (such as through innovations made possible by simultaneously designing the construction industry’s product and processes) or (iii) cultural (such as through the development of shared mental models of OHS within project teams).

The Special Issue will also invite Notes from government and industry policy-makers in countries with dramatically different regulatory regimes for construction and OHS, including Australia, the USA and the UK, to enable different policy perspectives on the problem to be communicated.

The Guest Editor for this Special Issue is happy to discuss ideas for papers: Professor Helen Lingard, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Australia. Email: helen.lingard@rmit.edu.au



About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
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