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Safety in the making: studies on the discursive construction of risk and safety in the chemical industry
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This compilation thesis aims to analyse how risk and safety are constructed, reproduced, and negotiated by communicative means in safety-critical workplaces. It conceptualizes these communicative moments of shaping and reshaping risk and safety as enmeshed in multiple forms of governing. That is, the management of risk and safety may not only be an employer’s responsibility delegated by the State, in a welfarist fashion, but may take different forms through a variety of institutional practices and communicative means. These defining practices seem particularly urgent to study, since it is through them that the locus of risk may be moved from one type of area or object to another, that attention is or is not paid to certain conditions of human exposure, and that parties are appointed responsible for safety measures.The thesis centres on three safety-critical factories located in Sweden that handle corrosive and/or explosive chemicals. It analyses interviews with various employees as well as recorded talk at a safety committee meeting. Previous research has addressed the existence of a tension between a strategy of individual responsibility and one of collective protection. This study makes a further contribution by demonstrating how these traditions are advocated and negotiated in discourse, and the dilemmas that emerge in the process. Although the study demonstrates that a discourse of collective prevention is reflected and reproduced in some narratives, it also makes evident that a great deal of responsibility is placed on the individual worker to avoid risk. The analysis has been able to show that this is due to the co-presence of traditional, hierarchical advice-giving and self-reproach, which amplify the importance of workers conducting themselves with greater caution, and of those newer concepts and technologies for worker involvement and responsibilization which are implemented in line with neoliberal ideas of human resources utilization.  Furthermore, the thesis demonstrates how employees’ risk and safety discourse exposes dilemmas, especially when, consciously or not, egalitarian norms are taken into account. For instance, the moralizing elements of behavioural discourse are regularly supplemented by mitigating, pronominal, or entirely agentless discursive choices, and thus by an anticipatory display of awareness of egalitarian norms. It is argued that this discoursal softening of workers’ risk responsibilities helps condition the sustained prevalence of a behavioural approach to risk and safety. It also exposes some of its fragility.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Örebro: Örebro universitet , 2010. , 94 p.
Series
Örebro Studies in Media and Communication, ISSN 1651-4785 ; 10
Keyword [en]
safety, risk, occupational health and safety, organizations, chemical industry, discourse, discursive practices, discursive strategies, power, governmentality, responsibilization
National Category
Social Sciences Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-11869ISBN: 978-91-7668-752-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-11869DiVA: diva2:352272
Public defence
2010-11-05, Hörsal P1, Fakultetsgatan 1, Örebro, 12:06 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2010-09-20 Created: 2010-09-20 Last updated: 2015-07-22Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Enabling selves to conduct themselves safely: safety committee discourse as governmentality in practice
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Enabling selves to conduct themselves safely: safety committee discourse as governmentality in practice
2011 (English)In: Human Relations, ISSN 0018-7267, E-ISSN 1741-282X, Vol. 64, no 3, 459-478 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

A developing body of literature argues that workplace safety is increasingly becoming the responsibility of employees who are the potential victims of hazards. Although interaction is an integral part of enacting and justifying these responsibilization processes, previous research has not provided detailed analysis of organizational talk in this regard. Following Brownlie’s (2004) ‘analytic bridging’ of Foucault and close discourse analysis, this study centres on a safety committee meeting, and demonstrates how governmentality is exercised as senior managers seek the consent of other employees for behavioural-safety implementation. Three discursive strategies are analysed in detail, examining the construction and invocation of: 1) an equal partnership through collaborative and vague talk; 2) hierarchy through directives and declaratives; 3) competitiveness by the establishment of a factory-versus-factory contest. In sum, these discursive strategies forcefully combine constructions of reciprocal relations together with disciplinary discourse that mandates compliance with program implementation.

National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-11509 (URN)10.1177/0018726710380976 (DOI)000287841200007 ()2-s2.0-79952270458 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2010-07-18 Created: 2010-07-18 Last updated: 2017-02-10Bibliographically approved
2. Discourses and identity positionings in chemical plant employees' accounts of incident reporting
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Discourses and identity positionings in chemical plant employees' accounts of incident reporting
2011 (English)In: Communicating risks: towards the threat society / [ed] Stig Arne Nohrstedt, Göteborg: Nordicom , 2011, 197-222 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Göteborg: Nordicom, 2011
Series
Research Anthologies and Monographs
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-11511 (URN)978-91-86523-13-8 (ISBN)
Available from: 2010-07-18 Created: 2010-07-18 Last updated: 2015-07-23Bibliographically approved
3. Governing the workplace or the worker?: Evolving dilemmas in chemical professionals naming conventions and in the negotiation of occupational health and safety
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Governing the workplace or the worker?: Evolving dilemmas in chemical professionals naming conventions and in the negotiation of occupational health and safety
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Media and Communications
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-41820 (URN)
Available from: 2015-01-15 Created: 2015-01-15 Last updated: 2015-01-15Bibliographically approved
4. Understanding “communication gaps” among personnel in high-risk workplaces from a dialogical perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Understanding “communication gaps” among personnel in high-risk workplaces from a dialogical perspective
2012 (English)In: Safety Science, ISSN 0925-7535, E-ISSN 1879-1042, Vol. 50, no 1, 39-47 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Our primary aim in this paper is to argue for a discourse analytical take on questions of how risk and safety are managed by personnel in high-risk workplaces, with a special focus on constructions of “us” and “them”. Thus, we approach the same issue investigated in many other studies, i.e., diverging safety-related understandings between people representing various occupational groups. We choose to examine so-called communication gaps as they are “talked into being” in discourse, meaning that we treat them as primarily socially constructed. A case analysis based on interviews will be used to illustrate how we can understand this phenomenon from a communicative perspective inspired by Linell’s (1998a) dialogue theory. While previous discourse and safety culture research emphasizes broad patterns and differences between entire professions and departments, we argue that researchers should hesitate to reinforce the notion of homogeneous groups. Instead, there is great value in demonstrating collective social construction processes and commonalities so as to facilitate inter-group solidarity and possibly productive change.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2012
Keyword
risk, safety, discourse, methodology, communication gaps
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-12697 (URN)10.1016/j.ssci.2011.06.009 (DOI)000296176200005 ()2-s2.0-80053177106 (Scopus ID)
Note

Funding Agencies:

Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency 2009-57124

Competence Centre for Energetic Materials (KCEM) 

Available from: 2010-12-12 Created: 2010-12-12 Last updated: 2017-02-20Bibliographically approved

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