Doing the 'funky chicken' to communicate on multinational projects

David Oswald, Simon Smith, Fred Sherratt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

An influx of migrant workers to the UK in recent times has meant the construction industry has had to adapt to nationally diverse workforces. In previous studies migrant workers have been highlighted as higher risk, and in 2007 the 25% rise in UK construction fatalities was attributed to communication issues and poor working practices. This study used an ethnographic approach to explore challenges created by a nationally diverse workforce on a large civil engineering project (+£500m), with particular focus on communication issues. Communication barriers meant that safety inductions took longer and bilingual workers were distracted from their work to translate. There were times when no translators/interpreters were present, and to overcome communication barriers a 'funky chicken dance' was used; or in other words, communication through noise and many body and hand movements. The funky chicken dance was sometimes successful in communicating to workers but was far from ideal. National diversity also meant that different ways of working was perceived as acceptable, which led to 'holes' in the procedures and tensions between employees. This study found: that confusion and debate surrounding safe working practices led to errors and confrontation; that safety risks were increased due to the challenges associated with communicating health and safety messages; there was significant reliance on interpreters and no simple way to check H&S messages were being communicated through them; the policy of one worker and interpreter to every six was inflexible and far from ideal; that there was greater difficulty in assessing levels of competency and there was a high turnover of foreign workers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProcs 31st Annual ARCOM Conference
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2015
Event31st Annual ARCOM Conference - Lincoln, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sept 20159 Sept 2015


Conference31st Annual ARCOM Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • communication, ethnography, migrant, safety


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