Safety and volunteer construction workers

Lydia Foster-Smith, Sinead Walsh, Martin Crapper, Fred Sherratt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The construction industry is dangerous – 39 fatalities were recorded in the UK in 2012/13, with comparable and even larger figures reported worldwide. Yet every year, at least several hundred UK-based people take part in construction activities on a voluntary basis, examples being international development projects using gap-year students and the substantial UK heritage railway sector that maintains its permanent way and civil engineering infrastructure using volunteers. Most of these volunteers have limited training and no technical qualification, whilst safety regulation frameworks range from being comparable to professional sectors to zero regulation in some international contexts. This research investigates how these volunteer workers construct safety in their volunteering environment. A series of unstructured interviews have been conducted with members of permanent way gangs at several UK heritage railways and with students who have taken part in development projects including the construction of housing and water infrastructure in Eastern Europe and Africa under the auspices of various charities. Taking a social constructionist perspective, the interviews were explored using discourse analysis to illuminate the master discourses of safety within this unique construction industry. Those with engineering or technical backgrounds developed more tangible constructions of safety, around risks and hazards, within their activities, yet volunteers without this knowledge also acknowledged this wider context of danger. Volunteers on overseas projects developed discourses of difference between safety at home and safety outside of the UK; this discourse closely associated with negative practices overseas yet also with an acceptance of the inevitability of this context as part of their voluntary experience. Further work is proposed to determine whether these insights can contribute to appropriate management of safety in these contexts, relative to practice in the professional construction industry.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings 30th Annual ARCOM Conference
EditorsA. Raiden, E. Aboagye-Nimo
PublisherAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management
ISBN (Print)978-0-9552390-8-3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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