Using participatory video to understand subcontracted construction workers' safety rule violations

Helen Lingard, Sarah Pink, Jan Hayes, Vanessa McDermott, James Harley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Traditional approaches to managing occupational health and safety (OHS) adopt a top-down approach in which rules prescribing safe work procedures are written and enforced. However, these rules are sometimes broken. Violations are actions taken by workers that they know to be contrary to rules or procedures. Violations are a causal mechanism in some accidents and understanding why violations occur is important. Rather than actions taken by deviant workers, research suggests it is appropriate to understand violations as system problems. In some cases, rules are broken because the rules themselves are not practical given situational constraints, or because working to rule would impact the ability to meet production targets. In some instances managers are complicit in rule-breaking, quietly ignoring routine violations in the interests of getting the work done. A participatory video process was used with a group of subcontracted insulation installation workers in the Australian construction industry. In making videos about their work, the insulation installers reflexively critiqued their everyday work practices, shared information and identified and explained gaps between procedures and situated practices. Interviews conducted with workers revealed how the installers sometimes committed rule-based mistakes, unintentionally breaking rules because they were not aware of them, or did not understand or remember the content of complex written procedures. Other routine violations were necessitated by not having the correct equipment. The interviews also revealed how the (sub-contracted) insulation installers are routinely expected to violate standard operating procedures by general contractors, placing them at significant risk of coming into contact with live electricity or falling from roofs. The participatory video process provided a feed-back opportunity to understand rule violations and learn from situated practices, as well as a feed-forward opportunity to engage workers in the design of better rules. The interview data suggests the reflexive learning afforded by the participatory video approach also equipped the insulation installers with the knowledge and confidence to refuse to work in unsafe ways.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference
EditorsP. W. Chan, C. J. Neilson
Place of PublicationManchester, UK
PublisherAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes
Event32nd Annual Association of Researchers in Construction Management Conference, ARCOM 2016 - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sep 20167 Sep 2016


Conference32nd Annual Association of Researchers in Construction Management Conference, ARCOM 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Procedures
  • Rule violations
  • Rule-based mistakes
  • Safety management

Cite this