Over the past two decades, the accident rate and number of workplace injuries in construction sites have been shown to be relatively high when compared to the figures for other industries in Hong Kong. It is generally believed, judging from press reports, that this relatively high level of accidents is due to the negligence of the workers and their failure to follow appropriate work procedures, such as not wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE). Construction workers’ lack of rest and low safety awareness are also commonly mentioned in the newspapers as other factors contributing to accidents. Yet, it is seldom mentioned in these reports that accidents may have happened due to managerial actions/inactions such as providing insufficient training for their workers or working with a tight project budget. In view of such, this paper aims to explore the root causes of workplace injuries in construction sites and thereby facilitate further studies in this field that will be conducive to creating a safer working environment.
This study started by reviewing a variety of sources including books, newspapers and websites. In addition, 10 qualitative interviews were later conducted with individuals chosen from three main parties — employers, government representatives and victims regarding their perspectives on the causes and consequences of workplace injuries.
One of the main findings from this study is that the view that accidents are inevitable owing to unsafe worker actions is not the whole story. Other factors relating to company policies may have a more powerful effect on the incidence of workplace injuries in construction sites. One example is the tendency of companies to implement decoupling strategies so that workers are left without much safety guidance or supervision. Another example is management use of techniques of neutralization to make the practice of occupational safety and health violations less obvious. Another finding concerns the cost of accidents. Accidents not only trigger physical harm to the victims, but also economic and financial harm. If the accident victim is the only breadwinner of the family, then the family members will also suffer from the bitter consequences provoked by the injury.