Complaining about Occupational Safety and Health: A Barrier for Collaboration between Managers and Workers on Construction Sites

Katharina N. Jeschke*, Susanne Boch Waldorff, Johnny Dyreborg, Pete Kines, Jeppe Z. N. Ajslev

*Corresponding author for this work

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Collaborative safety practices between construction site managers and workers are considered essential in occupational safety and health (OSH). However, establishing joint OSH engagement between managers and workers is still a challenge. Little is known about how managers and workers’ “complaining” about OSH affects collective OSH action and the quality of manager-worker relations. Drawing on an understanding of complaining as “boundary work”, this study empirically analyses how managers and workers’ verbalisations either downplay (collaboration) or build (demarcation) boundaries. Interviews and observations between managers and workers were carried out on a construction project in Denmark to identify why and how complaining is used. A typology consisting of four “complaining” mechanisms was developed, highlighting their associated relational dynamics: (1) Shifting responsibility for advancing OSH, (2) Defending oneself against strained working conditions, (3) Dealing strategically with criticism, and (4) Blaming other occupational groups. Complaining about OSH as boundary work – both collaboration and demarcation – between managers and workers furthers professional fragmentation and conflicts OSH collaboration, yet it occurs in a “safe space” for professional disagreement. We suggest that these communicational aspects and associated relational dynamics should be an area of increased focus in order to promote managers and workers’ OSH collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
JournalConstruction Management and Economics
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)459-474
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Boundary work
  • Manager-work relation
  • Negotitation
  • Mechanisms
  • Typology

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