Risk perception and safety behaviour: an ethnographic study

David Oswald, Fred Sherratt, Simon Smith

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


In the construction industry, poor risk perception has been suggested to being highly influential factor in unsafe behaviours. To explore the influence of risk perception on unsafe acts in construction, an ethnographic approach was undertaken on a major project (+£500m) in the UK. The aim of the study was to identify the importance of risk perception and the factors that influence it. Literature has found two key factors which influence risk perception ratings. These factors are if the risk is unknown (unknown risks are new and unfamiliar) and if the risk is dreaded (a dread risk is an uncontrollable risk which can be catastrophic e.g. a plane crash). Dread and unknown risks are feared and are the factors which cause variance in the risk perception ratings across all national cultures. Literature has also established that voluntary risks (risks that are one’s own choice e.g. driving a car) are more likely to be taken than involuntary risks. Voluntary risks are strongly linked to controllability, where the risk is under personal control. Applying this knowledge to the construction industry, this paper has concluded that since risks taken in the industry are usually under the individual’s control, non-dread and known, construction risks are more likely to be tolerated and can be under-rated. As this is the case across all national cultures, this conclusion can be made for the global construction industry. In this study, thirty different unsafe acts were collected over a one-year period and findings suggested that a poor risk perception was almost always a perceived influence. The perception of risk can be altered by a variety of factors but common factors found to influence risk perception were benefit and work pressures. These two factors were usually linked as shortcuts were taken to benefit from saving time.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProc. CIB W099 Achieving Sustainable Construction Health and Safety
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2014
EventCIB W099 Achieving Sustainable Construction Health and Safety - Lund, Sweden
Duration: 2 Jun 20142 Jun 2014


ConferenceCIB W099 Achieving Sustainable Construction Health and Safety


  • Benefit, Construction, Ethnography, Risk Perception, Time Pressure.

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