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Health and safety maturity in project business cultures

Aeli Roberts (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL, London, UK)
John Kelsey (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL, London, UK)
Hedley Smyth (Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL, London, UK)
Adam Wilson (CDM Resources Ltd, London, UK)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 7 September 2012

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between health and safety (H&S) and organisational culture in project business, in particular to explore the validity of current cognitive emphases of linear organisational maturity towards a “safety culture”, and normative models and prescriptions.

Design/methodology/approach

An interpretative methodology is employed, informed by ethnography (Douglas' cultural theory) and clinical consultative (Schein's model) approaches, using case‐based analysis comprising seven project business organisations.

Findings

The cases were characterized by diverse organisational cultures and diverse H&S practices informed by habits and intuitive behaviour, as well as cognitive strategies and decisions for implementation. H&S was not the top priority for these cases. Good performance related to alignment with the prevailing culture rather than pursuit of a “safety culture”.

Research limitations/implications

The term “safety culture” is misdirected; greater attention on what is, rather than normative models and prescription, is necessary. Generalisation is limited by the case‐based approach.

Practical implications

Practitioners need to pay more attention to organisational culture and alignment of H&S practices, to the unintended consequences of prescriptions, and robust systems.

Social implications

The way activities are conducted requires awareness of the prevailing culture in order to align the structure and processes to the culture for effective operations. These implications are general, and within project business and management, Failure to do so carries increased risk of failing to satisfy business and broader stakeholder interests.

Originality/value

Anomalies in H&S research and practice are challenged, especially “safety culture” and normative approaches. The contribution is the combination employment of the Schein and Douglas models to understand organisational culture and H&S cultural alignment.

Keywords

Citation

Roberts, A., Kelsey, J., Smyth, H. and Wilson, A. (2012), "Health and safety maturity in project business cultures", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 776-803. https://doi.org/10.1108/17538371211269059

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited