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New dissertation on the construction industry's safety work

Published: 7 October 2020

The construction industry is one of Sweden's most affected by accidents. A new dissertation in human work science from Luleå University of Technology states that a great deal of responsibility is placed on the individual in safety work. Furthermore, it appears that there are expectations that more women in the construction industry will lead to safer workplaces.

In her dissertation, Maria Johansson has conducted a number of interviews with employees and managers in the construction industry, employees in occupational health services and social partners. The employees found it difficult to comply with safety rules even though they had received both information and knowledge. Both managers and employees tended to focus on changing the individual's behavior rather than implementing changes in the organization to improve safety at the construction site.

Difficult to focus unilaterally on the individual

– My theoretical starting point is that the individual employee shapes his norms and behaviors in interaction with the norms and behaviors that exist in the working group. It therefore becomes difficult for the individual to choose his or her own behavior entirely. This also makes it difficult to implement changes that focus too one-sidedly on the individual's safety behavior, Maria Johansson says.

Bygghälsan had industry-specific knowledge

Until the beginning of the 1990s, the construction industry had its own occupational health service, “Bygghälsan”, which developed industry-specific knowledge. Its staff could, for example, give advice on how to use a particular machine as safely and gently as possible. Since the 1990s, the occupational health services has developed into being more of a strategic partner.

The interviewees describe Bygghälsan as part of the construction industry. They spoke the same language and were part of the "we" of the construction industry. By being part of the community, a trust was established between the construction workers and Bygghälsan, which seems to have made it easier for Bygghälsan than its successors to influence health and safety at the construction sites.

The macho culture lives on

Several of the interviewees think that there used to be a macho culture in the construction industry that counteracted a good working environment. It could be expressed, for example, by the fact that it was desirable to lift heavy and not use safety equipment.

– The majority think that the environment has become less macho, but that the macho culture still lives on.

A recurring theme in the interviews was the hope that more women in the construction industry will change the macho culture and lead to safer workplaces. The fourth study of the dissertation therefore examined how to talk about women in the construction industry. This was done by analyzing mainly English-language texts online, including industry and trade journals.

– The analysis certainly shows that women are welcome. But they are not in demand primarily as skilled craftsmen and leaders but for their assumed ability to change the culture of the construction industry.


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