A Novel Approach to Health and Safety in Construction: Culture, Ethics Reasoning and Leadership

  • Philip McAleenan

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Improvements to construction health and safety were driven by primary legislation promulgated in the 1970s and by subsequent regulations, codes and official guidance. In parallel social psychology, management and leadership theories were developing practical means for achieving health and safety objectives and reducing accidents and incidents of ill health. Despite the notable improvements that were achieved in countries with strong legislatives bases, the reduction in the rate of accidents has been significant but at the same time substantially falling short of providing safe and healthy workplaces. Construction sites remain places of high hazard and high risk activities for workers.

    Acknowledging the gains made by the compliance approach whilst challenging the underpinning assumptions on the causes of accidents and ill health, a critical theory methodology was developed to explore different perceptions and arrive at a new understanding of workplace culture within which safe practices take place. The purpose was to determine the degree of cultural maturity within and readiness of companies for the attainment of preventative workplace safety cultures, and this was achieved through the development of two projects, 1) the development of a cultural maturity index and 2) the development of an ethics reasoning pedagogy for construction professionals.

    Utilising a set of criteria deemed necessary for achieving success and sustainability the first project is a metric based on behavioural objectives and rational planning was designed and developed to ascertain the intangibles that would be indicative of a company’s culture. This was field tested and substantial revisions made to the original criteria resulting in a shift of focus from Corporate Social Responsibility, innovation and resourcefulness to moral agency, ethics reasoning and leadership, all of which were subject to critical evaluation and redefining on a priori principles.

    The resulting model, Organisation Cultural Maturing Index, is designed to develop a greater understanding of the social relationships that underpin workplace cultures and explain the many factors that come into play when health and safety programmes and practices are developed and implemented on construction sites. The model allows for the development of and flexibility in company and site specific approaches to achieving safe outcomes through respect for autonomous thought and support for collective action by all workplace employees. The model distinguished between concepts of leadership that are associated with managing operations and originates a new concept of leadership which initiates and supports agency and advocates a restructuring of workplace relationships in order to achieve safe, healthy and sustainable construction projects and contributes to a humanising ethos in work relationships.

    The second project is the development of under-graduate and post-graduate modules on ethics reasoning designed to facilitate moral agency through the development of critical thinking and reasoning skills and fill a gap in construction professional education. It integrates with the OCMI model through the provision of under-graduate and post-graduate programmes of study which develop the ethics reasoning skills of construction professionals facilitating their abilities to make design and operational judgements based on human and societal benefit. This project further integrates with the ethics standards required by Joint Board of Moderators and Engineering Council in respect of professionalism, and professional code of ethics such as the RICS’s.

    The review will further identify from both projects those elements of innovation and originality in the methodology adopted and applied to occupational health and safety and the insights and perspectives arrived at as a consequence.
    Date of AwardFeb 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Ryall (Supervisor) & Kathryn Franklin (Supervisor)


    • Safety regulations
    • Health aspects
    • Construction industry

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