UCL Grand Challenges


Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Construction (OHSWC)

Report on the UK outcomes of research into Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Construction, funded by the UCL Grand Challenges and the University of Hong Kong.

Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Construction

27 March 2019

Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Construction: Culture, Systems and Procedures in a Changing Environment

Report on the UK Outcomes of the HKU-UCL Grand Challenges funded Research.

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Research Team and Stages of Work

The HKU research team was led by Professor Steve Rowlinson and the UK side by Professor Hedley Smyth. Other members of the UK research team, who mainly contributed to conducting the University-Industry Workshops and the semi-structured interviews, were:

  • Dr Aeli Roberts, UCL
  • Dr Meri Duryan, UCL
  • Dr Fred Sherratt, Anglia Ruskin University
  • Dr “Jean” Jing Xu, UCL and now Manchester University
  • Marilina Toli, UCL 

The research award was confirmed in January 2018 and preparations were made to commence the work, which in effect started at the end of February. The work was divided into 3 stages:

  1. Agenda setting
    – Pilot interviews
    – University-Industry Workshop
  2. Main data collection
    – semi-structured interviews
  3. Analysis, write up and dissemination
    – University-Industry Workshop
    – Web page for downloadable free copy of the Report on the findings
    – Publication of the Report in hard copy and online.

First Stage

In the 1st stage, Agenda Setting, three industry partners were identified, namely three large international tier 1 contractors: Multiplex, Mace and BAM Nuttall. They became partners from the onset and were involved throughout. During this first phase they helped us frame our research and pilot interviews helped drill down in preparation for the first round of workshops. Two of the UK research team, Professor Hedley Smyth and Dr Aeli Roberts, attended the 1st Workshop in Hong Kong (HK). Five of the team organised and facilitated the 1st UK Workshop, held in May 2018, which was also attended by Professor Steve Rowlinson of HKU. This helped coordinate the research, yet also identified a clear substantive demarcation, whereby the industry in HK were more focused on health and safety (H&S), and in the UK more emphasis has been placed upon occupational health over the last few years and recently on wellbeing. Themes identified during the 1st Workshop: 

  • Worker Engagement
  • Wellbeing
  • Sstatistics on H&S
  • Operational Issues
  • Recruitment and Churn
  • Priorities for Investment

Not all were reflected in findings from the subsequent main data collection, e.g. 'Recruitment and Churn', yet new issues emerged.

Second Stage

The 2nd stage of the research involved conducting the semi-structured interviews. 43 were successfully completed. Interviews covered 5 types of organisation: 

  • Institutional
  • Client Bodies
  • Main Contractors
  • Subcontractors 
  • Self-employed Operatives (i.e. self-organising contract labour that occupy the ‘lowest’ tier in the construction supply chain).

The interviews in each organisation were conducted with senior management, head office and site management, including managers responsible for occupational health, safety and wellbeing (OHSW), and operatives who were both employed and self-employed. This work was unusual in that it drilled down to the depths of the supply chain from the institutional to operative level.

Third Stage

The 3rd stage of the research involved the team analysing, writing and presenting the findings to begin dissemination.

UK Report on Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing in Construction

The UK Report is available for download on the website for UCL’s Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management.

The report has an executive summary and covers the following topics:

  • Definitions of Wellbeing  
  • Lack of a Holistic View on OHSW 
  • Drivers 
  • Measurement             
  • Whose Safety and Wellbeing? 
  • Weak Systems
  • Operational Practices and Practicalities 
  • Digital Technologies and Media

The Report formed the core of the 2nd University-Industry Workshop, held 26th March, 2019. The Report was launched simultaneously online. Two or three trade press articles are planned, as well as a more general PR effort to promote the Report from the School’s Comms team.

Read the UK Report

Conference Papers

In addition, academic conference papers have been accepted:

Hedley Smyth, Aeli Roberts, Meri Duryan, Jean Xu, Marilina Toli, Steve Rowlinson and Fred Sherratt (2019) The Contrasting Approach of Contractors Operating in International Markets to the Management of Well-being, Occupational Health and Safety, CIB World Building Congress, Constructing Smart Cities, 17-21 June, Hong Kong SAR, China.
Hedley Smyth, Aeli Roberts, Meri Duryan, Jing Xu, Marilina Tol, Steve Rowlinson and Fred Sherratt (2019) Health & Safety and Knowledge Management in Construction, Association of Researchers in Construction Safety, Health, and Well-Being (ARCOSH) Conference, 3-4 June, Cape Town.
Meri Duryan, Hedley Smyth, Aeli Roberts, Jean Xu, Angeliki Toli, Steve Rowlinson and Fred Sherratt (2019) Knowledge Transfer as a Critical Component for Promoting a Positive Occupational Health and Safety Culture, Association of Researchers in Construction Safety, Health, and Well-Being (ARCOSH) Conference, 3-4 June, Cape Town.

These will act as the basis for developing at journal articles.

Work in HK continues currently and the 2nd Workshop is scheduled for May. When the local analysis is complete, there will be a basis to bring together findings in comparative analysis and generate joint outputs for industry and academic dissemination. 

Of particular relevance to the wellbeing challenge from the UK findings is that the UK research found the construction industry research and practice is very operationally driven. The management of the firm poses some current barriers to breaking through the plateaued statistics for H&S in the UK and for integrating H&S with wellbeing.

There is also a need for more systematic coordination within organisations, especially between the firms and projects at programme management level and specifically to integrate the current emphasis on top down procedures and initiatives with bottom up knowledge, learning and experience of site managers and operatives. In other words, the one size fits all approach needs to give way to more nuanced and context specific prescriptions.

Report by Professor Hedley Smyth
Wednesday 27th March 2019