What does ‘common sense’ really mean in health and safety?

Emmanuel Aboagye-Nimo, Ani Raiden

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


Extensive literature search has revealed that construction workers refer to the use of ‘common sense’ in site safety. This was also discovered in a recently completed PhD project where workers openly discussed a common sense approach to health and safety on site. The use of this term can be problematic. Different workers labelled different behaviours under this generic term. Also, some used it to refer to positive experiences and application of knowledge based on experience. Others employed the term negatively, or dismissively: “It’s just common sense…” General use of the term puts emphasis on ‘basic knowledge’ required for attaining minimal or satisfactory achievement of a given task or activity. This is in conflict with some workers’ interpretation of skilled and experience based action. In academic language ideas in this field are more substantially and in depth explored under ‘communities of practice’ and ‘local knowledge’. These concepts offer an avenue for analysis not tied to specific wording employed by respondents but interpreting broader sets of data particularly for this study (i.e. observation material and text around specific extracts of text). This paper presents findings from five micro construction firms regarding the concept of common sense and site safety. Practical constraints, such as a researcher’s stage of development and skill in qualitative analysis, potentially hinder the development of argumentation. The interpretative school of thought accepts researchers’ influence on the processes; and we add depth and nuanced understanding to this discussion via practical examples of such issues. Interpretation of the data collected through ethnographic case studies indicates although workers interpret common sense differently, although it is essentially a means of working safely. However, common sense safety techniques tend to fall outside strict site rules which are often bureaucratic.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the CIB World Building Congress 2016
Place of PublicationTampere University of Technology
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2016
EventProceedings of the CIB World Building Congress 2016 - Tampere, Finland, 30 May - 3 June, 2016
Duration: 30 May 2016 → …


ConferenceProceedings of the CIB World Building Congress 2016
Period30/05/16 → …


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