Urgency for safety in construction: Narrative struggles of carpe diem, memento mori, and negotiated safety

Martijn van Ooijen*, Antonie van Nistelrooij, Marcel Veenswijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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This study on safety culture focuses on the way people make sense of safety in urgency narratives in small–medium construction enterprises in the northeastern Netherlands, the so-called “earthquake region.” Three composite narratives are frequently revisited in the conversations among the employees, managers, and Vlink team. Employees turn to a carpe diem narrative, regarding safety as not a real problem, while appreciating the freedom of that comes with this type of work. In this practice, safety is predominantly the responsibility of the employee—incidents and unsafety are accepted as part of the job. Managers narrate a carpe pecunia narrative, supporting the carpe diem narrative through the logic that employees are responsible for safety while the project budget and satisfying the client carries much weight. Thereby, safety is negotiated on a constant basis and often outpaced by other concerns. These narratives create a cultural practice that demoralizes construction workers to work safely. The memento-narrative, developed by a team of consultants, is a narrated change attempting to influence this cultural practice and stresses the moral obligation of leaders to evaluate the risks of the work they assign to their (or external) employees. The logic of the narrative is that safety should be the main concern and not part of a negotiation. This study shows how the memento-narrative cannot always gain a foothold when narrators adopt certain narrative techniques, like blocking and reframing. Only in small remarks and specific moments during conversations are there opportunities for further conversation on and sharing of the memento-narrative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-77
Number of pages10
JournalSafety Science
Early online date24 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. However, two students from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen that have performed interviews have received an internship compensation for their efforts.

FundersFunder number
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen


    • Change urgency
    • Morality
    • Narrative
    • Power
    • Safety culture


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