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An industry structured for unsafety? An exploration of the cost-safety conundrum in construction project delivery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • David Oswald
  • Dominic Ahiaga-Dagbui
  • Fred Sherratt
  • Simon Smith

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Original languageEnglish
JournalSafety Science
Early online date11 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


Construction accidents can have major social, financial, reputational and legal implications. Hence, it is to be expected that safety is often presented as a key priority for construction organisations. However, existing evidence suggests that within the construction industry, safety often loses the battle when a trade-off is required with project cost. Improved understanding of the manifestations of the cost and safety interaction are needed. A three-year longitudinal study afforded the opportunity to investigate the safety implications of sub-economic bids on a large infrastructure project in the UK. While low-bidding to win tenders is not new, this paper presents empirical evidence of the consequential safety risk implications of such bidding at the project delivery stage. Faced with a perverse form of the tender ‘Winner’s Curse’ where the successful bid is frequently the lowest, cost-saving strategies are often implemented to recoup lost pricing margins. Our investigation revealed several instances of consequentially elevated safety risks, through cheaper and poor-quality equipment, machinery and temporary structures. In addition, lower-paid migrant workers – who already experience a statistically greater safety risk than local workers – were employed on the project without appropriate investment in a safety management approach suitable for a multinational workforce. The study both contributes to the call to critically rethink the construction industry’s competitive bidding practices, and highlights an industry structure that creates the conditions for high safety risks and accidents.

    Research areas

  • competitive tendering, safety, risk, construction cost, injuries

ID: 118403539