Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 785–794 | Cite as

How and why do subcontractors experience different safety on high-risk work sites?

  • Charan Teja Valluru
  • Sidney Dekker
  • Andrew Rae
Original Article


In high-risk industries such as construction, mining and energy, subcontractors play an increasingly significant role. A typical arrangement is for the site owner to hire a principal contractor who in turn hires multiple subcontractors. This means that multiple subcontractors from multiple companies can be working on the same site at the same time. There is evidence that the use of subcontractors is not only increasing, but that the accident rates for subcontractor employees are higher than those of operator/site owner employees. Existing research on subcontractors, which focuses on the role of the prime contractor in selecting and managing subcontractors, fails to explain why subcontractors continue to experience higher rates of serious injury even where subcontractor management systems are in place. The purpose of this paper is to understand how and why employees of subcontractors’ experience safety differently from employees of principal contractors. The paper does so by extensively reviewing the applicable literature and reporting on a cross-industry focus group study.


Subcontractors Working conditions Safety management Qualitative methods 



Following a workplace incident that occurred in 2011, Thiess entered into an enforceable undertaking (EU) with the regulator from the Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland on 24 July 2014. As part of EU and as a safety benefit for industry, Thiess committed to providing a 3-year scholarship to a Griffith University OHSS student to support research into the relationship between principal contractors and subcontractors in the construction industry. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Simon Albery from Thiess in organizing the workshop and reviewing drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charan Teja Valluru
    • 1
  • Sidney Dekker
    • 1
  • Andrew Rae
    • 1
  1. 1.Safety Science Innovation Laboratory, School of Humanities, Languages and Social SciencesGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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