Critical Theory: understanding the impact language has on workers’ safety and health

Ciaran McAleenan, Philip McAleenan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Knowledge and awareness of safety, health and well-being concepts in construction, and how engineers positively engage with them, result in clearer understanding, contextualised with function and agency, contributing to the facilitation of prevention through design and safe and healthful construction that enhances well-being. Terminologies such as ‘risk assessment’ and ‘risk management’ have long been central to the business and public health discourses as vehicles for measuring the threats and uncertainties that could disrupt or harm either. Epistemologically, the concepts underpinning them are inherently contradictory. Risk assessment measures uncertainty and, being unpredictable, contains the negation of control, whereas applying management to risk, focusing on targets and processes, equates to control, albeit control of uncertainty and the unpredictable. This inherent contradiction is the driver of solutions aimed at preserving the concept rather than embracing its negation. Using critical theory, the authors deconstruct the language of safety, its meanings, interpretations and impact on workers’ safety, health and well-being. In the context of the human ontological project (nature of being), the research contextualises and contrasts the humanising objectives of construction and engineering with the dehumanising language in the safety discourse. It explores the complexity of meanings, developing new understandings of legal and moral obligations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-58
JournalProceedings of the ICE - Management, Procurement and Law
Issue numberMP2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Apr 2017


  • education & training
  • health & safety
  • management


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