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When 'Must' Means 'Maybe': Varieties of Risk Regulation and the Problem of Trade-offs in Europe

When ‘Must’ Means ‘Maybe’: Varieties of Risk Regulation
and the Problem of Trade-offs in Europe
Henry Rothstein*1, Anne-Laure Beaussier1, Olivier Borraz2, Frederic Bouder3, David
Demeritt1, Maarten de Haan3, Michael Huber4, Regine Paul4, Mara Wesseling2
*Corresponding Author:
1 King’s College London, Department of Geography, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS. UNITED KINGDOM.
2 Centre de Sociologie des Organisations (CSO), Sciences Po-CNRS, 19 rue Amélie, 75007 Paris. FRANCE.
3 Department of Technology and Society Studies, University of Maastricht, Grote Gracht 90-92, 6211 SZ
4 Law & Society Unit, Department of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Postbox 10 01 31, D-33501, Bielefeld.
HowSAFE Working Paper, No. 1
Research for this Working Paper was supported by a grant awarded through the Open Research
Area Programme for the Social Sciences jointly funded by the ESRC (ES/K006169/1), DFG, ANR,
and NOW (
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
This paper explains how the inevitable trade-offs between risk and cost in occupational health and
safety (OHS) regulation are managed across EU member states. While trade-offs are explicitly
sanctioned in UK law, many continental countries mandate ambitious goals of safety. This contrast
in statutory goals appears to reflect cleavages identified in the risk regulation literature between
European precaution and Anglo-Saxon neoliberal risk-taking, as well as in the Varieties of
Capitalism literature which suggests workers are better protected in co-ordinated than in liberal
market economies. However, we challenge those claims through a detailed analysis of OHS
regimes in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and France, which shows that a narrow focus on
headline regulatory goals misses how each country makes cost-benefit trade-offs on safety. In
particular, we show how the nature and outcome of those trade-offs substantially vary according
to the degree of coupling between regulation and welfare regimes, and to national traditions of
common and civil law. As such, we offer a novel explanation for risk regulation and governance
variety that emphasises deep institutional differences among welfare states in the organization of
the political economy and their philosophies of regulation.
1. Introduction
In 2007, the UK finally won a protracted battle with the European Commission (EC) over its explicit
framing of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation as a trade-off between safety and cost
(C-127/05, Commission v. UK [2007] ECR I-4619). The controversy began a decade earlier when the
EC referred the UK to the European Court of Justice, alleging that UK law compromised the goal of
European OHS regulation by stipulating that workers should only be protected against harm ‘so far
as is reasonably practicable’. The EC argued that this qualification was inconsistent with the
Framework Directive’s (89/391/EEC) requirement to “ensure the safety and health of workers in
every aspect related to the work”. Other EU member states had transposed the Directive in ways
that emphasised the reduction of workplace risks to the minimum possible, and so should the UK.
The UK argued, however, that given it was impossible to eliminate all [workplace] risks” (HSE
1989, 17), it was better to ensure that the cost, time and effort required to reduce risk was not
grossly disproportionate to the benefit gained.
This conflict over trade-offs between cost and safety speaks to important debates about risk
regulation and varieties of capitalism in Europe. On the one hand, many- often US-based-
commentators have identified an increasing European proclivity for precautionary risk regulation
that inhibits growth (e.g.Sunstein 2005). Yet since ensuring workplace safety inevitably carries
costs, it is puzzling how other EU-member states can comply with the Directive’s goal of safety
without reducing their competitiveness vis-à-vis the UK. On the other hand, critics of Anglo-Saxon
neoliberalism often decry the turn to risk-based rationales as deregulatory assaults on public
protections (e.g.Dodds 2006). That argument is consistent with the Varieties of Capitalism
literature, which suggests that liberal market economies offer weaker protections to workers than
the coordinated market economies of continental Europe (Mares 2001). However, far from having
their safety compromised by the UK’s risk-based approach, the latest Eurostat (2014) data suggest
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that UK workers enjoy levels of safety comparable to other EU-member states. Indeed, while
injury and illness statistics should be treated with caution, it is notable that UK fatal injury rates
(0.58/100,000) are lower than in the coordinated- and state-market economies of Germany (0.89)
and France (2.36) where the legal requirement for safety is unqualified.
These puzzles suggest that contemporary regulatory debates may overlook important
differences within the EU in how member states think about and manage risk. In this article,
therefore, we use the case of OHS regulation to compare how regulatory goals in the UK,
Netherlands, Germany and France are reconciled with the inevitable trade-offs between the risks
to worker safety and the cost of protection. Drawing on material from an international research
project, we challenge contemporary explanations of national regulatory variety, highlighting the
importance of legal traditions, regulatory norms and practices, and even the design of welfare
states in shaping risk regulation regimes.
2. Why risk regulation might vary across Europe
In qualifying the goal of OHS regulation with the so far as is reasonably practicable (SFAIRP)
principle, the UK has adopted an explicitly risk-based approach that has become increasingly
central to regulatory reform programmes around the world (Rothstein et al 2006). Proponents of
risk-based regulation insist that trying to prevent all adverse regulatory outcomes, however
unlikely or small, is disproportionately costly to achieve and can perversely create other risks, or
distract attention from more serious problems (Breyer 1993; Graham 2010). Instead, they argue
that it is more rational, efficient and socially optimal to calibrate regulatory efforts in proportion
to risk, as judged by both the probability and the consequence of harm occurring (Baldwin and
Black 2010). One hypothetical example might be repairing railway lines, where maximum possible
safety could be achieved by costly closures of the whole line during maintenance, but it might be
more reasonably practicable to keep the trains running by using warning signals and posting
The universalizing promise of such risk calculus suggests the potential for convergence in the
framing of regulatory goals across policy domains and national contexts. Certainly, risk-based
approaches have become commonplace across Anglo-Saxon countries and in a wide range of
policy domains, having strong proponents in a variety of powerful national and supranational
organisations, such as the OMB, WTO and OECD (OECD 2010). Even the EU is now promoting risk-
based approaches to policy formation and implementation in domains such as food-safety and
flood risk management.
There are, however, at least three reasons to expect unevenness in the adoption of risk-based
regulation. First, some commentators argue that national policy stances will vary depending on
the strength and configuration of economic interests. For example, countries may advocate risk-
based approaches to open-up foreign markets to exports, but likewise resist them to protect
domestic producers from imports (Vogel 1995). Lofstedt (2013), for example, has pointed to how
Sweden can afford a strict phase-out policy on chemicals because of its small chemicals sector, but
would be unlikely to champion strict controls on forest-products. As the European Parliament has
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
gained more power within the EU, so this additional veto point has amplified the significance of
such national positions in EU policy-making.
Second, pioneering research on environmental regulation in the 1980s pointed to the
importance of national institutional settings in shaping risk regulation (e.g.Kelman 1981). Most
notably, Brickman et al (1985) showed how quantitative risk analysis emerged in the US as a
defensive rationale for legitimating decision-making in the context of highly adversarial regulatory
processes, but that risk ideas were less necessary in the more closed, cooperative and informal
regulatory settings of European polities. More recent comparative research has focused on
contrasting US-EU approaches to precaution (Vogel 2011; Weiner et al 2010), but that has done
little to illuminate differences among EU member-states.
Rothstein et al (2013), however, have recently suggested that variation in governance norms
and accountability structures across EU member states may create unevenness in the uptake of
risk tools. They note that while the UK has enthusiastically adopted risk-based rationales for
regulatory action in the face of increasing accountability demands on regulators, such rationales
can conflict with other expectations of state action. In Germany, for example, the constitutional
principle of Schutzpflicht constrains state intervention in the absence of identifiable ‘dangers’,
while in France constitutional demands for solidarity and equality potentially conflict with the
discrimination demanded by risk-based prioritization.
A third perspective on differences amongst EU member states is provided by the Varieties of
Capitalism (VoC) literature (e.g.Hall and Soskice 2001). Its focus on variations in the organization of
national political economies suggests different fault lines over risk regulation than the familiar
transatlantic comparisons of precaution. Although VoC has had little to say about risk regulation,
its focus on nationally specific institutional settings that complement the development of different
models of capitalism points to features such as welfare and corporatist bargaining arrangements
that might help explain variety in OHS regulation across Europe.
Mares (2001, Ch.4), for example, has argued that coordinated and state market economies
(CMEs/SMEs) such as Germany, Netherlands and France support strong labour regulation and
generous welfare regimes as a way of protecting investments by employers and employees in
developing the firm- and industry- specific skills characteristic of those economies. Risk-based
regulatory approaches limiting worker protection might seem antagonistic to such contexts. By
contrast, such risk-based balances might be more acceptable in liberal market economies (LMEs)
such as the UK, where weaker labour regulation and welfare provision are argued to complement
more flexible labour markets in which workers and employers are less committed to sustaining
long-term employment relationships. Certainly a number of OHS commentators have pointed to
the use of risk rhetoric as cover for deregulation and ever diminishing protection for workers, be it
reduced numbers of inspections or lessened compensation for accidents (Tombs and Whyte
Others, however, suggest that variations in regulation and welfare provision observed across
market economies may be related to legal traditions that predate capitalism. Botero et al (2004),
for example, have argued that common law countries are likely to have less protective labour
regulation and less generous welfare regimes than civil law countries because of the greater
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
emphasis on freedom of contract and the greater role of markets in providing insurance in the
former countries compared to the latter (see also Ahlering and Deakin 2007).
In order to explore the extent to which such arguments can explain different attitudes towards
risk-based regulation across Europe, we now compare whether and how the goals of OHS
regulation are reconciled with the inevitable trade-offs between workplace safety and cost in the
UK, Netherlands, France and Germany. OHS offers an attractive case-study because it is a non-
traded cross-sectoral issue so that any observed differences in headline regulatory goals would be
hard to explain in terms of trade-protectionism. Moreover, our chosen countries are all advanced
industrialised EU member states, so that any differences in regulatory design cannot be attributed
to economic structure or state capacities. However, as an issue that is centrally concerned with
the political economy of labour relations, OHS regulation might be expected to follow VoC
predictions about the varying strength of labour protection across Europe. Our countries have
therefore been chosen to reflect differences between co-ordinated, state and liberal market
economies as well as those between common and civil law traditions. Our analysis combines desk-
based documentary review with an extensive programme of in-depth interviews, and later cross-
checking of factual descriptions in this article, with key regulatory officials, practitioner, business
and labour stakeholders in all four countries.
3. The Evolution of Modern European OHS Regimes
The cost of workplace accidents is not a new concern. Legal codes in ancient Greece, Rome and
China provided precise schedules to compensate for lost limbs and other injuries (Guyton 1999),
while the Law of Æthelberht, the oldest surviving English law code, was also concerned largely
with compensation. Strictly defined ex post compensation regimes disappeared under feudalism,
so as the industrial revolution dawned, workplace safety was largely managed at the discretion of
employers. Tort suits were costly and difficult to win, not least because the law limited employer
liability on the presumption that the potential for workplace accidents was anticipated in wages
negotiated by workers. Indeed, in the UK, colourfully termed ‘right to die contracts’ explicitly
excluded the possibility of civil litigation (Hennock, 2007).
Pressure for reform mounted during the 19th century. Employers became anxious about the
increasing success of civil actions, organised labour started to protest and, in Germany, the army
was even concerned about the impact of poor labour conditions on their young conscripts. In that
context, governments across Europe (and indeed North America [cf Lubove 1986]) established the
first regulatory regimes to reduce accidents and illness amongst workers, as well as social
insurance regimes to cover the income, welfare and medical costs of work-related injuries, illness
and death. A complex set of varying institutional arrangements and practices subsequently
emerged across our four countries, as outlined below.
Germany takes a ‘dual system’ approach to OHS, combining largely enabling statutory regulation
with an interventionist social insurance regime. The modern regulatory regime dates back to the
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
1891 Industrial Code, which generalised a Prussian decree of 1839 to the rest of the German
Empire by setting out employers’ obligations to safeguard workers against dangers to life and
health, ‘insofar as permitted by the nature of the business’. These general requirements were not,
however, judiciable; rather their purpose was to provide a legal basis for state intervention by
newly established inspectorates (Hennock 2007 p131). Indeed, there was little enforceable
general OHS law until the 1996 Occupational Safety Law, which, in transposing the EU Directive
(89/391/EEC), mandated that the endangering of life and physical as well as psychological health
[should be] avoided if possible and the remaining endangerment should be reduced to a
minimum’. A number of federal ordinances have since been issued under the 1996 Law, for
example, on hazardous substances (Paul and Huber 2015), but with the exception of transposing
EU rules, the State has overwhelmingly refrained from setting out the precise criteria for legal
compliance, having delegated this task to the social insurance regime at the end of the nineteenth
The social insurance regime was established by the 1884 Industrial Insurance Act, which
effectively reinvented the strictly defined compensation regimes of antiquity. The Act abolished
the civil liability of employers in favour of a strict no-fault liability scheme of tabulated
compensation for all income and medical costs of work-related injuries, illness and death. The
scheme is administered by the Berufsgenossenschaften (BGs): a set of powerful regional and
sectoral mutual trade associations established in law under the Social Code and governed jointly
by both employers and employees. The BGs are corporatist self-regulatory organisations that
typify the German model of coordinating, rather than directing, the economy. Funded through
compulsory contributions by employers, the BGs set premiums based on, inter alia, the riskiness of
the sector, individual firms’ accident rates and the associated costs to the BGs. It is the BGs that
flesh out the vast majority of compliance criteria through a complex mass of detailed, sectorally-
specific and often legally-binding ‘accident prevention rules’, technical standards and guidance.
These twin pillars of the German regime are enforced by the Länder Labour Inspectorates as
well as by the BGs own technical inspectorates. First established in 1853, today’s Länder Labour
Inspectorates serve a specialist policing function. Acting largely under administrative law, they
draw on BG accident prevention rules, standards and guidance to assess regulatory compliance
and deploy a conventional enforcement pyramid of escalating sanctions in proportion to the risks
posed by violations. By contrast, the BGs technical inspectorates play more of an advisory role to
facilitate employer compliance with BG rules. They can also prosecute under administrative law,
however, and have the power to recommend premium increases.
France also has a dual system for preventing and compensating workplace injuries and illness but,
in keeping with France’s dirigiste tradition, statutory regulation plays a much greater role than in
Germany. France’s statutory regime dates back to the 1893 Industrial Establishments Act, which
created a general obligation for all employers to provide ‘clean and safe working conditions’ for
their workers. As in Germany, this broad goal of safety was not itself justiciable until the 1980s
(Chaumette 1992, pp19/25). Instead, the goal was fleshed out through an ever accumulating mass
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of detailed and inflexible regulations in the statutory Labour Code. As Chaumette (1992, p35) has
noted, neither employers nor courts ‘have any discretion whatsoever as to the cost, utility,
technical difficulty or efficiency of safety measures’. The Code is overseen by the Ministry of
Labour and enforced by its regionally-based Labour Inspectorate (DIRECCTE), using a conventional
pyramid of sanctions in response to non-compliance.
The social insurance regime in France, as in Germany, plays an important role in preventing
accidents and ill-health. The regime was created by the 1898 Workmen’s Compensation Act, which
replaced the civil liability of employers with a no-fault liability approach that compensated
workers for lost income and medical costs from work-related injuries, illness and death.
Compensation is administered by the Caisses; a set of powerful national, regional and sectoral
mutual associations funded by mandatory employer contributions and governed by the social
partners. Premiums reflect what is known as the ‘cost of risk’, calculated actuarially from detailed
historical data on compensation costs for the sector and/or particular businesses (HSE 1996, Ch.2,
p66). The regime was absorbed into the social security system in 1946, but it still acts through the
Like the German BGs, the Caisses also issue technically detailed ‘accident prevention’ rules, but
which are principally advisory in nature. Companies are assisted in implementing these rules by
the Caisses’ own dedicated corps of engineers and technicians, which can even subsidise
improvements in the workplace. While lacking statutory powers, this quasi-inspectorate can
nevertheless ‘invite’ companies to take preventative action under threat of premium increases,
issue ‘improvement notices’ to follow accident prevention rules, or notify the labour inspectorate
of legal contraventions.
In contrast to the dual systems of Germany and France, the UK relies solely on statutory regulation
to control injuries and sickness amongst workers (Baldwin 1992; Demeritt et al 2015). The
regulatory regime was founded on the 19th century Factory Acts, which by the 1960s had evolved
into a hugely complex patchwork of highly prescriptive and inflexible safety ‘standards’ providing
inconsistent levels of protection across sectors. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
(HSWA), however, fundamentally transformed the regulatory regime by introducing a more
flexible ‘principles-based’ approach. Under the HSWA, employers must ensure, so far as is
reasonably practicable (SFAIRP), the safety, health and welfare of employees, whether or not
anyone has been hurt. This risk-based principle requires that employers take all physically and
technically possible measures until the cost, time and effort of doing more is grossly
disproportionate to both the likelihood and the consequence of the harm occurring. Enforcement
responsibilities for low- and high-risk workplaces are mostly divided between expert inspectors
employed by local authorities (LAs) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is a
dedicated national regulatory agency created under the HSWA. Those inspectors have traditionally
been able to draw on their expertise to offer advice, but they also have recourse to a pyramid of
enforcement sanctions, such as administrative improvement and prohibition notices, which are
ultimately enforceable through criminal prosecution.
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
Unlike Germany and France, compensation arrangements to cover the lost income and medical
costs of work-related accidents and sickness have played no role in shaping OHS regulation and
enforcement. In 1897, the Workers' Compensation Act established a no-fault liability regime,
funded through employers’ non-statutory private insurance arrangements, to pay for work-related
accident and sickness costs for a range of industries. The regime was extended to all workplaces in
1911 by a National Insurance scheme which was administered by state ‘approved’ mutual
associations and jointly funded by state and mandatory employer and employee contributions
without regard to the riskiness of individual workplaces. After WWII, the regime was effectively
‘nationalised’ through the Beveridge reforms with injury costs socialised through taxpayer-funded
social security benefits and the new National Health Service (NHS). Employees still have the right
to sue for damages but only if employers’ negligence can be proven and the state deducts medical
costs and social security benefits from successful awards.
As in the UK, the Netherlands principally relies on statutory regulation to control occupational
injuries and sickness (de Gier 1992; Popma et al 2002). That regulatory regime was founded on the
1895 Safety at Work Act, which initially applied to only a limited number of sectors. Over the next
century, however, the regime was broadened to cover all sectors through a complex mixture of
statutory decrees, regulations, codes and guidance, which prescribed in great detail how
employers should protect their employees from harms in specific contexts. In the spirit of the UKs
HSWA, the Dutch sought to create a more proportionate regulatory environment with the 1980
Working Environment Act (WEA), which qualified the general duty of employers to ‘aim for
maximum possible safety’ with the proviso ‘as far as can reasonably be required’. While that
qualification superficially resembled the UK’s approach, the WEA retained the pre-existing mass of
statutory regulations. Dutch regulators have since sought to replace those absolute duties with
non-statutory ‘Labour Catalogues’ providing sectorally-specific advice on meeting regulatory
obligations. Though non-statutory, the Labour Catalogues have strong evidential force for the
courts and for the Labour Inspectorate (SWZ), which is responsible for OHS enforcement. Now
part of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the SWZ was established in 1919, making it
the first dedicated national inspectorate in the Netherlands.
As in Britain, the Dutch social insurance regime for covering the income and medical costs of
work-related accidents and sickness plays no role in prevention. The 1901 Work Accidents Act
prohibited civil litigation (revised since) in favour of a disability benefits system funded through
non-statutory employer contributions to a set of mutual insurance associations- the
Bedrijfsverenigingen- jointly controlled by employer associations and trade unions. Initially the
regime covered only a small number of hazardous industries, but by the second half of the century
the Bedrijfs’ had expanded to provide disability benefits for all sectors. Rather like the UK, the
expanded regime was funded through a combination of mandatory employer and employee
contributions, which were based on employee numbers and salaries rather than on the riskiness of
the workplace. The Bedrijfs’ were incorporated into the Social Security Agency (UWV) twenty
years ago, but in an attempt to stem the increasing number of workers on disability benefit,
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
employers are now required to fund benefits for the first two years. The medical costs of work-
related injuries, however, are entirely decoupled from OHS regulation, since they are met by
mandatory individual health insurance.
4. Explaining Variety
As these brief country overviews show, the OHS Framework Directive was transposed upon
national OHS regimes with diverse and deeply embedded structures and principles. In France and
Germany, for example, OHS statutes emphasise the reduction of risks to a minimum possible,
whereas in the UK and Netherlands the goal of safety is qualified- at least in principle- by cost
considerations. While France, Germany and the Netherlands flesh out their regulatory goals
through a complex mass of highly prescriptive sector-specific rules, the UK replaced prescription
with a more flexible ‘principles-based’ approach forty years ago. And while the social insurance
regimes of France and Germany play an active role in accident prevention, the UK and the
Netherlands rely solely on regulation. As a consequence of those varied institutional settings, our
four countries have faced different problems in reconciling the Directive’s ambitious goal of safety
with the costs of achieving it. In the following section, we show how those trade-offs have been
accommodated in three distinct ways.
Rules and the qualification of safety in different legal traditions
The first way in which the trade-offs at stake in OHS have been accommodated reflects the
contrasting legal traditions of the UK and the other three countries. British common law places
great weight on judicial interpretation of the law; the consistency of that interpretation being
ensured by constraining judges to interpret statutes according to their literal or plain meaning
(albeit with limited scope to avoid absurd or cruel results), and by demanding consistency with the
precedential decisions (the ‘common law’) of higher courts. In that context, the courts have
interpreted the SFAIRP principle by drawing on mining case-law from the 1940s, which concerned
a miner who had been killed by a collapsed mine roadway (Edwards v. National Coal Board (NCB),
[1949] 1 All ER 743). In that case the Court of Appeal ruled that “‘reasonably practicable’ is a
narrower term than ‘physically possible’” and that it would have been unreasonable to expect the
NCB to shore up all roadways, since the cost and effort required to reduce risk should not be in
gross disproportion to the benefit gained.
That common law tradition helps explain why the UK fought so hard to succeed at the ECJ
insofar as SFAIRP was an essential part of 1974 HSWA. Without that qualification, the HSE argued
that legal literalism would make- more or less- every workplace in breach of the law since it would
be impossible to “ensure” the health and safety of workers as the Directive demanded (HSE 1989
p17). It is conceivable that in the face of such an absurd situation the courts might have responded
by exercising interpretative discretion to restore proportionality to the law, but that would have
been controversial if Parliament had actively removed the principle when transposing the
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By contrast, civil law systems, such as found in the Netherlands, Germany and France, assert
the primacy of the legislature over the judiciary. Under separation of powers doctrines judges are
merely expected to mechanically implement the law, which in principle should be sufficiently
complete, coherent and clear so as not to demand interpretation (Merryman 1985,p29). In
practice, since legislatures are rarely able to anticipate all cases that could come before the courts,
statutes tend to take the form of general legal frameworks for which, as the HSE (1989 p15) has
pointed out, "literal interpretation is not expected”. As Huber (2009 p15) has observed, the
German legislator “refrains from settling the details and must be satisfied [with] formulating the
principles and the big guidelines”. In that context, judicial consistency and predictability come not
from judicial interpretation but from the further elaboration of extensive codes of legal rules and
guidance that give expression to the meaning of general statutes.
One way of thinking about general duties in continental legal jurisdictions is as aspirational,
rather than as unambiguous, requirements. For example, the German headline regulatory goal of
avoiding endangerment “wherever possible” does not mean that German courts necessarily
expect employers to do everything that is possible irrespective of cost (Wank 1992,p59). As
already noted, this goal- like its equivalent in France- was not judiciable for most of the twentieth
century. Rather in civil law systems the emphasis would be on compliance with the extensive
legally-based rules and guidance such as those issued by the German BGs. In effect, the goal of
safety is defined in terms of meeting specified rules rather than the prevention of harm per se.
One striking consequence of how these two legal traditions have addressed OHS is that they
have favoured different balances between precision and flexibility in rule design. As Diver (1983)
has observed, precise rules help ensure legal consistency but the problem of ‘requisite variety’
(Ashby 1956) means that as rules become narrower so their number has to increase to match the
variety of circumstances that they must meet. Flexible rules, by contrast, can cope with a wide
variety of unanticipated circumstances, but they must be accompanied by commonly held
interpretative principles to ensure consistent application.
Understood in those terms, the problem besetting the UK’s old prescriptive regime under the
Factories Acts was one of requisite variety, insofar as the rules failed to provide sufficiently
nuanced and consistent coverage across sectors (Demeritt et al 2015). For example, powered saws
required multiple guards, even if they were carefully protected museum exhibits, while inspectors
could not go beyond regulatory requirements to demand the total containment of mechanically-
fed wood-cutting machinery, even if this significantly increased safety for only a small cost. Some
sectors, such as retail, were left entirely unprotected for decades.
The reform to the UK regime in 1974 solved those problems by replacing prescriptive rules with
a general regulatory principle, which permitted explicit trade-offs between safety and cost on a
case-by-case basis. That solution was only possible, however, because the UK’s common law legal
tradition provided a framework for consistent legal interpretation of that qualified goal. Indeed, by
providing a common interpretative principle to assess legal compliance in the absence of
prescriptive rules, SFAIRP- and more generally ‘principles-based’ regulation, which OHS regulation
has come to exemplify- was very much the product of a common law legal tradition.
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
By contrast, such principles-based approaches do not fit well with the way that civil law
jurisdictions ensure legal consistency. In response to the requisite variety problem, continental
OHS regulation has spawned an extensive corpus of rules to meet the extraordinary variety of
situation-specific problems that have to be managed in the workplace. For example, it would not
be unusual to find in the rule books of the Dutch Labour Catalogues, German BGs, French Caisses
and Labour Code, very detailed, sector-specific rules and guidance on the use of ladders both
outdoors and indoors and in wet and dry conditions. All three countries even have rules that seek
to manage the most esoteric of risks such as tiger-taming, with different rules for circuses and
zoos. The UK, by contrast, has implemented EU rules on ladders in a very general way and has no
rules on tiger-taming; both hazards, however, are covered by the SFAIRP principle.
Legal traditions, therefore, help explain both why the UK could not accept the wording of the
EU Framework Directive, as well as how the emphasis of German and French statutes on safety is
mitigated by the associated rules, codes and guidance that give legal substance to what is, in
effect, an aspirational duty on employers. Another consequence, however, is that just as the
German and French duties for safety are aspirational, so is the Dutch qualification that permits
cost as a consideration. In the Dutch civil law tradition, that seemingly flexible aspiration is
constrained by the corpus of rules, codes and guidance that courts use to assess legal compliance
irrespective of the cost-effectiveness of doing more than required. Indeed, as Ale (2005) has
observed, while the concept of ALARA- or As Low As Reasonably Achievable- is often used in UK
public protection with an analogous meaning to SFAIRP, in the Netherlands ALARA judicially means
As Large As Regulators Allow. Therefore, while rules, codes and guidance in France and Germany
mitigate aspirational goals of safety, in the Dutch context they mitigate the value of flexible
headline regulatory goals.
Cost-benefit trade-offs embodied in corporatist rule-making
While legal traditions help explain the interpretative context of regulatory goals across our four
countries, they do not explain how the detailed rules, codes and guidance accommodate the
inevitable risk trade-offs between worker safety and cost. We therefore need to examine the
institutional context in which these trade-offs are made. That context is not one of apolitical
technical deliberation, but instead is marked by various forms of corporatist negotiation between
employers, employees and the state.
In the UK, trade-offs between worker safety and the costs of achieving it, are explicitly
permitted in law under the 1974 HSWA. However, in addition to transforming the legal landscape,
the Act also created a new powerful regulatory agency, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE),
overseen by a Commission (since absorbed into the HSE) with tripartite representation from
government, business, and unions. Fairman (2007) has persuasively argued that this corporatist
setting provides significant political legitimacy for the HSE’s risk-based approach to managing
trade-offs, as is evidenced by the explicit support of both unions and employers for the approach
in a recent government review (Loftsedt 2011).
The detailed rules, codes and guidance that typify the OHS regimes of our other three countries
are shaped by their own distinctive corporatist arrangements. In the Netherlands, consultation is a
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
central feature of the polity (Kickert 2003) and OHS is no exception. Thus the regulations, codes
and guidance historically issued by the Ministry for Social Affairs and Employment entailed
extensive formal consultation with the ‘social partners’ through powerful tri-partite corporatist
institutions such as the Working Environment Council, and the Social and Economic Council. This
corporatist approach was reinforced in 2007 by the replacement of these statutory rules with the
non-statutory ‘Labour Catalogues’ which are elaborated by the social partners on a sectoral basis.
These were explicitly introduced as a means of making compliance criteria more flexible and as
such they inevitably reflect pragmatic trade-offs on the costs of securing the health and safety of
In the distinctive welfare state contexts of the dual systems of Germany and France, however,
trade-offs in rule-making are driven as much, if not more, by containing the ex post costs of
accidents and ill-health as by containing the ex ante costs of prevention. The German case is
clearest. Historically, Bismarck supported the BGs having an active role in OHS because of his
vociferous opposition to state regulation as an illegitimate interference in private production; not
least, as Hennock (2007) has entertainingly noted, because of his dim view of a factory inspection
of his own sawmill. In fact, the self-regulatory system of BGs built on the long-standing and much
valued freedom of the German guilds- the so-called Gewerbefreiheit- to organise economic
production without state interference. The assumption was that it would be in the BGs own
interests to formulate safety rules that would optimise the balance between the costs to business
of safety measures and insurance premiums. As Hennock (2007, p.99) has argued, “Safety
measures whose costs could not be justified by clearly foreseeable savings in compensation
payments were ruled out from the beginning. Or put another way, it might be cheaper to pay-out
than prevent some kinds of accidents.
These days, BGs make three-way trade-offs between safety and the costs of prevention and
compensation through tripartite corporatist negotiations with representatives of employers,
employees and the state within ‘expert’ committees. BG rule-making takes a wide range of forms,
from detailed design standards, such as for butchers’ meat slicing machines, to general
requirements, such as having a guild-style certified ‘master’ present when taming tigers. Indeed,
the same hazards may be regulated differently across different BGs, reflecting the different
balance of safety and compensation costs struck in different economic contexts. In recent years,
the BGs have shifted away from legally binding accident prevention regulations towards technical
standards and best practice guidance, both in response to Single Market pressures as well as to
successive BG mergers that have necessitated reconciliation of historically diverse rules. This
deregulatory programme, in principle, gives employers greater compliance flexibility, but the
extensive guidance still has evidential force.
In France, the central state plays a more formal role in rule-making than in Germany through
the state-issued Labour Code. Overseen by the Ministry of Labour, this detailed body of rules is the
outcome of corporatist negotiations through national level tripartite bodies and technical
committees, such as the Conseil d’Orientation sur les Conditions de Travail (COCT). In practice,
Ministry representatives are said to proverbially sit at the back of the room while employers and
employees hammer out acceptable compromises that balance the costs of protection against
marginal increases in safety (Henry 2012; Verdier 2012). Indeed, Henry (2011: p150) suggests that
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
the State avoids actively participating because the inevitable differential exposures of workers and
publics to risk creates potential conflicts with the French constitutional guarantee of equality.
Likewise, the extensive accident prevention rules issued by the Caisses are formulated by their
Regional Technical Committees, which comprise equal numbers of employer and employee
representatives (HSE 1996, Ch.2, p66). These committees have a close interest in the impact of
their rules on business costs, jobs and compensation risk, since they also determine contribution
rates for establishments and can vary those rates according to performance. Consequently, their
rules are likely to balance the costs to business of additional safety measures against the
containment of compensation costs as much as against preventing illness and injury.
Making trade-offs through regulatory enforcement and social insurance
Enforcement action by regulatory inspectors and social insurers provides a third way in which the
trade-offs between worker safety and cost inherent to OHS regulation are accommodated within
our four countries. With its principles-based approach to OHS regulation, trade-offs are
acknowledged up-front in UK law, so the challenge is ensuring that they are appropriate and that
risk is reduced SFAIRP in every case. In the absence of prescriptive rules, the UK relies on
regulatory enforcement by a technically expert inspectorate to judge legal compliance. Inspector
discretion, however, is constrained by case-law and best-practice guidance published by the HSE
and other bodies such as the British Standards Institute, and the criminal law framework of OHS
regulation provides incentives for employers to heed inspector judgment. Black (2002) has
characterised this process as a ‘regulatory conversation’ in which employers and inspectors
identify practices that the courts are likely to regard as constituting legal compliance.
By contrast, the more prescriptive approach of our other three countries has favoured greater
concentration of regulatory expertise in rule-making processes. However, prescription still poses
the requisite variety problem of accommodating situations that are specific to individual
workplaces. That problem is mitigated, in part, through cultures of regulatory enforcement and in
France and Germany by the activities of social insurance organisations.
In the Netherlands, the ‘ruliness’ of the OHS regime is mitigated is through a diagnostically
Dutch approach to enforcement that Van Waarden (2009) terms ‘informal consensualism’. While
there is little formal scope for discretion on the application of specific duties, inspection cultures
tend to favour pragmatic and non-legal negotiated solutions. This approach has been reinforced
by: the framing of OHS regulation as predominantly administrative rather than criminal law (de
Gier 1992, p160); the WEA’s legal duty on employers and employees to find ‘reasonable’ solutions
and on inspectors to persuade rather than punish (Popma et al 2002, p191); and the recent
introduction of non-statutory Labour Catalogues. Overall the emphasis on dialogue between
inspectors and employers to determine what is reasonable has led to a strong resemblance
between the UK and Dutch regimes.
Nevertheless, the tension between the rule-based tradition of civil law and the emphasis on
flexibility headlined in the WEA remains. For example, stung by public criticism of its business
enforcement in the early 1990s, the Inspectorate’s approach became more legalistic and less
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
flexible (Popma et al 2002, p192). On those rare occasions when cases go to trial, courts have
interpreted the concept of reasonableness in terms of technical possibility, or as one labour
lawyer commented to us, as “geared towards the elimination of risks, rather than in terms of how
safe is safe enough. Frustration with that approach led some industry representatives and
politicians to advocate a more risk-based numerical definition of ‘reasonable’, but that has so far
has proved elusive in the context of significant sectoral variation in what constitutes acceptable
risk (Rimington et al 2003).
In contrast to the UK and Netherlands, the state inspectorates in the dual systems of Germany
and France are constrained from playing decisive roles in shaping workplace safety practices
largely because they spend most of their time enforcing general labour law (eg HSE 1996, Ch.3,
p53). Moreover, administrative law- under which most breaches are prosecuted in the absence of
serious harm actually occurring- makes for a relatively weak sanctioning regime. In that context,
there is some scope for accommodating the inevitable trade-offs between cost and additional
safety that are needed on a case-by-case basis (e.g.Wank 1992, 67).
In Germany, for example, discretion by the Länder Inspectorates is facilitated by statutory
ordinances that tend to refer to the ‘state-of-the-art’ and a formidable corpus of BG rules, which
may themselves be framed as procedural norms, such as delegating judgements to guild-style
‘masters’. The French DIRECTTE inspectors, by contrast, are forced to exercise enforcement
discretion because of the Labour Code’s mass of inflexible, unqualifiable and sometimes
contradictory duties. As one recent official report admitted: ‘The Law in practice is, by nature, not
fully overlapping with the Law... Full compliance with the law is aspirational because of the
complexity of the Code du Travail, the number of companies to inspect, the reality of the current
practices of some of these companies, the amount of work required to establish some
infringements of the law’ (DIRECTTE, 2012, p.32/38). Thus, whereas ‘regulatory conversations’ in
the UK are around what trade-offs are legally acceptable, equivalent ‘conversations’ in France are
less consensual and more about which laws to apply and which to ignore. Such implementation
gaps are common in France; indeed the centrality of negotiation to making the law ‘work’ is said
by some to be a central characteristic of the French State (Dupuy and Thoenig 1983). It is perhaps
no surprise, then, that regulatory action tends to be reactive; as Chaumette (1992, 29) has
observed, infringement often comes to light only after the occurrence of an accident’.
Given these gaps in regulatory enforcement, the technical inspectorates from German and
French social insurers play a significant role in shaping OHS trade-offs in the workplace. In
Germany, the BG inspectorates undertake approximately twice the number of inspections and
accident investigations as their Länder counterparts (DGUV 2014; Länder annual statistical reports
from 2011-2013). While they have powers to prosecute safety violations and to recommend
premium increases, BG inspectors tend to see themselves as playing an advisory rather than
policing role. Yet insofar as the frequency of BG investigations tends to correlate with the costs of
accidents, BG inspectors are driven by insurance logics of compensation risk rather than accident
prevention per se (HSE 2007 p453). Likewise, insurance premiums are finely calculated to balance
the containment of pay-outs against the associated costs to members of achieving that aim
(Matchan 1985). Indeed, historically, compensation concerns sometimes inhibited BGs from
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
recognising the occupational cause of certain diseases, such as some cancers, several decades
after other countries such as the UK (HSE 1996, ch.3, 4.3.5).
The French Caisses inspectorates have significantly less power than the German BG
inspectorates and consequently see their role as principally advisory. As one inspector put it to us;
We are not there to notice breaches to the labour code. Our only obligation is to suggest
solutions to dangerous situations. They can, however, recommend a tripling of premiums and
have even spent between 1-2% of their income to subsidise safety improvements in workplaces
(HSE 1996, ch.2, 45). The Caisses also shape workplace behaviours by defining which diseases and
accidents are work-related (see Bruno et al 2012), and by setting risk-based contribution rates.
Indeed, like the German BGs they have been criticised for delays in recognising certain
occupational diseases, such as asbestos-related mesothelioma, which became a major public
scandal in France in the 1990s (Rivest 2002, p101). To the extent to that risk-based logics infuse
the work of the Caisses, their decision-making tends to be driven by ‘secondary’ insurance
concerns- i.e. the ‘cost of risk’- as much as by the primary risks of physical harm and ill-health.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
In this paper we have shown how four leading EU-member states differently accommodate the
trade-offs between cost and safety that OHS regulation inevitably involves. In contrast to the focus
of transatlantic comparisons of risk regulation on the degree of precaution in statutory goals
(e.g.Weiner et al. 2010; Vogel 2012), our findings here suggest that looking no further than narrow
headline law may too easily mistake ambitious regulatory goals of safety for risk aversion.
Divergence in how countries have chosen to transpose the EU Framework Directive into law does
not reflect differences in risk appetite or tolerance for trade-offs between safety and cost. Such
trade-offs are inevitable and can be seen in each of our countries. Rather differences lie in where
those trade-offs are made in each regime and how they are institutionally filtered and shaped
through deeply entrenched legal traditions, regulatory norms and practices and the organization
of political economy.
Thus the UK’s principles-based approach to OHS requires trade-offs to be explicitly sanctioned
in the headline law because common law rules of legal literalism would struggle in the absence of
such a principle. That approach creates challenges in ensuring that the SFAIRP principle is
consistently and correctly applied, but they are mitigated by the activities of an expert
inspectorate working within a criminal law framework, case-law and best-practice guidance. By
contrast, the more aspirational nature of headline regulatory goals in the civil law systems of our
other three countries presents a different set of problems. In those jurisdictions, trade-offs are
instead reflected in the elaboration of extensive codes of legal rules and guidance that are proxies
for achieving headline regulatory goals, be they the ambitious goals of safety in Germany and
France or the more qualified approach of the Netherlands. Their more prescriptive approach
sacrifices flexibility for legal precision, but in turn demands rules for each and every workplace
situation. Since there could never be sufficient requisite variety in OHS rules to detail the trade-
offs appropriate in every case, then trade-offs must be accommodated in other ways, such as
through discretionary enforcement within a predominantly administrative law setting.
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
Beyond highlighting legal tradition and regulatory culture as key drivers of variety in risk
regulation, our article goes further to show that while trade-offs are inevitably made between
safety and cost in each of our four countries, differences in the organization of corporatist rule-
making and compensation have significant consequences for the framing of risk trade-offs. In the
UK and Netherlands, where accident prevention is decoupled from social insurance, regulation is
centrally concerned with trading the ex ante costs of preventing accidents and ill-health against
worker safety. In the dual systems of France and Germany, however, regulatory concerns for
worker safety are tempered by the logics of their social insurance regimes that trade the ex ante
costs of preventing accidents and ill-health against ex post compensation costs. While reducing ex
post compensation costs may sometimes be correlated with improvements in worker safety,
efforts to manage compensation risk may well sometimes compromise worker safety.
Our analysis, therefore, not only identifies important differences in the ways that European
polities govern risks that have hitherto been overlooked by the focus of the comparative risk
governance literature on headline law, but also challenges assumptions in the Varieties of
Capitalism (VoC) literature about the political economy of worker protection. Superficially, the
organisation of OHS regulation might appear to accord with VoC expectations. Thus the UK’s
principles based approach to OHS regulation is consistent with the expectation that liberal market
economies (LMEs) give employers flexibility in organising their labour relations. Similarly, the
German delegation of regulatory and compensation functions to legally mandated corporatist
mutual trade-associations backed-up by state enforcement is consistent with VoC expectations
about coordinated market economies (CMEs), as is the Dutch delegation of the Labour Catalogues
to sectoral associations. Likewise, the state-driven negotiations between the social partners both
in regulation and compensation in France fit with VoC expectations of a state market economy.
However, our study challenges the implicit expectation of the VoC literature that workers are
better protected in C/SMEs than in LMEs, because the latter do not place the same value on
workforce stability. Rather a major cleavage in approaches to protection amongst our four
countries is related to whether state regulation is driven solely by accident prevention concerns,
or additionally, if not principally, by insurance logics of compensation cost containment. Indeed,
one major finding of this analysis is that while Germany and France like to portray the Anglo-Saxon
practice of explicitly valuing life in regulation as a cultural anathema, those countries simply put a
price on life through their social insurance regimes. From that perspective, the Netherlands-
despite its co-ordinated market economy- has more in common with the UK than with Germany or
France. Thus the social insurance focus on ex post compensation in Germany and France may
favour getting workers back to work, but the decoupling of compensation from OHS regulation in
the Netherlands and the UK may better favour preventing accidents and ill-health in the first
At the same time, decoupling in the UK and Netherlands means that ex post costs- which are so
closely managed in France and Germany- can only be contained through separate action on
helping workers back into jobs, crackdowns on benefit fraud and, in the UK, much handwringing
over the NHS picking up the costs of a wide set of social ills. The Dutch have more actively sought
to contain the escalating costs of disability benefit by making employers liable for the first two
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
years of payments. However, since employers can privately insure against those costs it remains to
be seen how effective that measure will be in reducing disability bills.
In that context, it is perhaps easier to understand the conflict that underpinned the EC’s
complaint about the UK. If SFAIRP qualifies the liability of employers for workplace injuries and
illnesses, then it is not hard to see why continental Commission officials and European trade
unions struggled to accept it, given that continental regimes are founded on no-fault liability to
ensure ex post costs are always met. That concern is not unknown in the UK; for example, anxiety
about the implications of SFAIRP for compensation were raised in parliamentary debates on the
HSWA in the 1970s, as they were in 2012 when some vestiges of the old regime were expunged
from the statute book. In the UK, however, those concerns are relatively residual because the
costs of injury and ill-health are socialised through the tax-funded branches of the welfare state.
Our study makes four further contributions. First, our attention to compensation highlights an
important limitation in comparative debates about risk governance, which generally have little to
say about regimes where regulation is not the State’s principle lever of control. Second, and
relatedly, our study addresses the relatively under-theorised relationship between the regulatory
state and the welfare state (Levi-Faur 2014). The VoC approach, which treats worker protections
such as the labour regulation and social insurance compensation as dependent variables to be
explained by their fit with independent variables such as the industrial strategy of capital, fails to
explain the dynamics of OHS regulation. Rather, we argue that the organization of social insurance
regimes is a key independent variable that acts as a key ‘boundary condition’ for OHS regulation,
shaping both its contours and goals.
Third, our study also shows how the distinctions often drawn between Anglo-Saxon neo-
liberalism and the more dirigiste and co-ordinated market economies of Europe can reflect legal
traditions of common and civil law that substantially predate capitalism. While others have argued
that workers are likely to be less well protected in common law than in civil law countries (Botero
et al 2004; Ahlering and Deakin 2007), our study suggests that there is no reason to suppose that
is the case. Comparing like for like, there is no evidence that the UK’s common law regime is
weaker than the Dutch civil law regime. Rather what is at stake is how those protections are made
to work in law. In the UK, without the explicit qualification of the statutory duty to ensure safety
through ideas of risk, legal duties of safety would be absolute and consequently very difficult to
implement. Such concerns are simply not a problem in civil law jurisdictions where headline
regulatory goals are aspirational.
Finally, our analysis also highlights how geographies of legal culture limit the international
relevance of flexible, principles-based approaches to regulation. Given the importance of judicial
interpretation in the common law tradition, it is perhaps no surprise that it is in Britain and its
‘Anglo-Saxon’ former colonies that principles-based regulation, of which SFAIRP is a paradigmatic
example, has flourished. The OHS case suggests, however, that attempts to transplant principles-
based regulation into civil law systems are likely to fail because their separation of powers
doctrines favour the mechanical application of precise legal rules rather than the development of
interpretive principles that could pit the courts against the legislature. Dutch OHS exemplifies this
problem insofar as apparently flexible headline regulatory goals are constrained by very rule-
Rothstein et al. (2015) Varieties of Risk Regulation
bound practices of enforcement. Indeed, legal culture may help explain why the UK so often finds
itself at odds with the EU over a wide range of regulatory issues- from nuclear power safety to civil
aviation- that it thinks would be better served through flexible interpretive principles rather than
extensive codified rules. If risk-based approaches to organising regulation have been taken up
more enthusiastically in Anglo-Saxon countries than in other advanced economies, our analysis
suggests that this is not so much because of principled differences between Anglo-Saxon neo-
liberalism and other varieties of capitalism about the morality of valuing life or the need to be
more pro-growth or pro-worker or pro-environment. Rather responses to risk-based approaches
reflect much deeper institutional differences in the organization of political economy, legal
tradition and ideals of the state, with roots pre-dating the birth of capitalism itself.
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... Since the Single European Act 1987 s.118A, which set out Community aims and interests in standard-setting in the workplace, the EU has increasingly been seen by politicians, policymakers, and the media as a source of legislative interventions (most notoriously the 6-Pack regulations of 1992) and of a nonaccountable bureaucratic over-reaching, and precautionary unreasonableness, which has fundamentally damaged the legitimacy of health and safety as a whole. Europe is often thought to be much more riskaverse than UK and US 'Anglo-Saxon' jurisdictions, and to favour precaution and prescription over more 'proportionalized' and risk-based modes of regulation (L€ ofstedt, 2011;Rothstein et al., 2015;Vogel, 2012) and so Europe has been identified and targeted as a bastion of over-regulation, excessiveness, and unreasonableness in approach and outcome. So, one factor for deciding what should be included in the HSC's work programme for 1981-82 was the need 'to respond to, and where appropriate, seek to change European Community or other international initiatives, and to stimulate such initiatives where this will help to ensure that realistic and effective health and safety policies can be adopted in this country' (HSC Press Release, 1981). ...
... (John Rimington interview, para. 66) At the same time, analysis of the relevant legislation, of the information and experiences of policymaking in Europe, and the outcome of various disputes tends to suggest, the UK actually has much more agency in terms of EU-level law-making than many accounts suggest, and has not necessarily been dragged in directions it did not want to go to the degree that some might suggest (Rothstein et al. 2015). On this reading, then, it might be suggested that the EU is a political factor shaping the legitimacy of health and safety, and an institutional factor, but has not been quite as relevant at a social or normative level. ...
Full-text available
‘Health and safety’ currently has an image problem in the UK. This article explores the origins of these current negative perceptions, framed around the concept of legitimacy – the degree to which a policy project of this sort is viewed as right, proper, and appropriate. The article considers and evaluates key moments in the growth and decline of social consensus around health and safety since 1960, including the Robens Committee and subsequent Health and Safety at Work Act, the decline of trade unionism, the extension of health and safety beyond the workplace, and the rise of the safety profession. It concludes that change has been much more subtle and less uniform than general perceptions might suggest, and makes recommendations for how public engagement with occupational health and safety might be restructured.
... Another example of a cleavage in the way that EU member states think about risk and regulation that has received relatively little attention in the literature is that of legal tradition, not least the different importance placed on headline law in the common and civil law traditions (Rothstein et al. 2015). The common law tradition constrains judges to interpret statutes according to their literal or plain meaning to help ensure consistent judicial interpretation of the law. ...
Since 1974, the UK has followed a risk-based approach to safety that, in the event of an incident, is enforced through the courts. The legislation is intentionally non-prescriptive and thus requires duty holders and the courts to decide what control measures were reasonable in the circumstances from ex ante and ex post positions. This has proved challenging for all parties involved. This paper describes a series of cases that have shed light on the thought processes of the courts. It appears that there is some variability in decision-making that can be attributed to several factors, including understanding of the word “risk”, the acceptability of residual risk and the validity of historical data as a means of measuring risk. In the aftermath of incidents, there is a real danger that psychological factors may intervene when the prior risk is being assessed for sentencing purposes. It is argued that while the risk-based model continues to enjoy widespread support in the UK and is not challenged, its implementation could be much eased by attention to details. This would serve to simplify courtroom debates, support those practising risk-based regulation and enable risks to be better prioritised.
Cyber risk governance has been occupying U.S. policymakers in the past two decades. This pressing challenge calls for a better understanding of how policymakers frame and consequently craft risk governance frameworks using public policies. Through a novel typology that analyzes the patchwork of laws and regulations in this policy space, this article investigates how policymakers design risk governance frameworks to address cyber risks. This typology is based on a systematic text analysis of thirty federal policies from the past twenty-two years (1996–2018) in which (N = 463) key sentences were recognized and coded to ten risk governance categories. Existent literature highlights the significance of risk framing to policy outputs and explains cross-national rather than cross-sector variance in risk governance. It also considers only specific cyber policy measures and does not question the link between policymakers’ risk perceptions and chosen policy paths. In contrast, this study finds that policymakers create three distinct risk governance frameworks across private owners of critical infrastructures, health and financial service provides, and companies in the broader digital economy. These risk regimes are comparatively analyzed to gauge variance (1) across sectors: in the role of the government and the extent to which it dictates coercive risk management steps, and (2) over time: on the ways in which the government has responded to cyber threats. I found that variance stemmed from the institutional configurations in each regulated sector and the consequent decision-making structures that had been institutionalized early on, rather than the framing of cyber risks. Tracing the governance of cyber risks and the missing link between policymakers’ risk perceptions and actions, this study sheds light on how seemingly technical decisions of cybersecurity governance can be social and political issues that are contingent on institutional settings and early policy decisions, questioning the central role of framing to risk governance outputs.
This chapter examines four core components of the constitutional legitimacy of health and safety, relating to the legal and political bases on which it is based and undertaken. It shows how health and safety has been shaped by the new legal framework and institutional regulatory arrangements that have been created since 1960 to direct activity in this area, and the fundamental challenges of accountability and clarity that they have posed. It also considers the contributions of, and challenges posed by, central government within the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU), to the legitimacy of health and safety. In each case, complex institutional trade-offs are explored which demonstrate the interlinked strengths and weaknesses of health and safety’s relationship to ideas of legality, accountability, and due process.
This chapter explores the historical development of health and safety since the nineteenth century, including substantial analysis of the otherwise much-neglected post-1960 period. This includes identifying a movement from detailed specifications about standards to more open-ended duties to be performed to safeguard people’s safety and health. In addition, analysis suggests that the location of debate about health and safety shifts from the workplace to a more diffuse and public arena, entering high politics and ‘public opinion’ as a concern. It also identifies gaps in historical study, notably around gender and newer forms of employment.
This chapter focuses on the functional legitimacy of health and safety—how it derives acceptance from the ways in which it operates in practice, and the outcomes that it produces. The expansion of health and safety beyond the workplace, the emergence of a safety profession and the valorisation of expertise, and the inspection and enforcement practices of regulators, are all explored in relation to the challenges and benefits that they provide in terms of demonstrating the effectiveness, efficiency, and expertise of those who ‘do’ health and safety. The chapter argues that the common theme here is that of redrawing the balance of who is responsible for health and safety—something that can be heavily contested, become blurred, and be subject to external political pressures.
Article In Anglo-American public administration research and practice ‘risk-based regulation’ (RBR) counts as an instrument to enable an efficient and effective prioritization of interventions which can eventually increase the legitimacy of administrations. Despite being promoted as a universal regulatory tool, RBR is considered to be rather incompatible with Germany’s fragmented federal system. This article examines the expected institutional incompatibility critically, seeking to explain the empirically observable de-central diffusion of RBR across three policy domains: food safety, flood protection and work safety. An interpretive policy analysis demonstrates that the de-central adoption of RBR in Germany can be explained by a combination of different isomorphic adaptation processes and their support by the governance strategies of de-central actors in Europe’s multi-level governance setting. The increased reform-political weight of RBR in Germany’s federal system, and the institutional and governance-related reasons for this growing relevance, require more systematic attention in research.
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While having gained relevance in Anglo-Saxon scholarly and political debates, risk-based regulation seems to be a stranger to continental European settings. e more fragmented and oen corporatist forms of decision making in countries such as Germany have been identied as key obstacles to a risk-based rationalization of policy interventions. Based on an in-depth case study of German work safety policies, this article nuances this account theoretically and empirically. It argues, rstly, that current risk-based regulation studies suer from a systemic bias toward the competition-oriented forms of regulation so widely spread in the Anglo-Saxon world. ey thereby misread the dynamics and rationalities of alternative regulatory approaches elsewhere in Europe. Secondly, as our policy analysis shows, this is especially true of corporatist and self-regulatory forms of policymaking, which characterize the case of German work safety. Rather than impeding the adoption of risk-based regulation, corporatist arrangements bear distinct structural features that render risk tools attractive. is nding goes beyond the scope of contemporary risk-based regulation scholarship. Unlike claimed for the Anglo-Saxon context, hopes of eeciency and eeectiveness are not boosters for risk-based approaches in corporatist work safety policy arrangements. Instead, risk tools serve the structural need to sustain trust relationships, rationalize consensus nding, and promote solidarity within self-regulatory settings. We conclude that a corporatist type of risk-based regulation needs to complement the existing competition-based type to account for the spatial, functional, and ideological diversity of empirical cases of risk-based regulation. We also propose the rst advances toward such a new research agenda, highlighting most importantly the necessity to trace the emergence and dynamics of specic types of risk-based regulation in research frameworks which can surmount national essentialism.
Full-text available
While having gained relevance in Anglo-Saxon scholarly and political debates, risk-based regulation seems to be a stranger to continental European settings. e more fragmented and oen corporatist forms of decision making in countries such as Germany have been identied as key obstacles to a risk-based rationalization of policy interventions. Based on an in-depth case study of German work safety policies, this article nuances this account theoretically and empirically. It argues, rstly, that current risk-based regulation studies suer from a systemic bias toward the competition-oriented forms of regulation so widely spread in the Anglo-Saxon world. ey thereby misread the dynamics and rationalities of alternative regulatory approaches elsewhere in Europe. Secondly, as our policy analysis shows, this is especially true of corporatist and self-regulatory forms of policymaking, which characterize the case of German work safety. Rather than impeding the adoption of risk-based regulation, corporatist arrangements bear distinct structural features that render risk tools attractive. is nding goes beyond the scope of contemporary risk-based regulation scholarship. Unlike claimed for the Anglo-Saxon context, hopes of eeciency and eeectiveness are not boosters for risk-based approaches in corporatist work safety policy arrangements. Instead, risk tools serve the structural need to sustain trust relationships, rationalize consensus nding, and promote solidarity within self-regulatory settings. We conclude that a corporatist type of risk-based regulation needs to complement the existing competition-based type to account for the spatial, functional, and ideological diversity of empirical cases of risk-based regulation. We also propose the rst advances toward such a new research agenda, highlighting most importantly the necessity to trace the emergence and dynamics of specic types of risk-based regulation in research frameworks which can surmount national essentialism.
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Using comparative methods of policy analysis, this paper explores the institutional factors shaping the transfer and adaptation of risk-based approaches to regulation within and between the governance regimes for occupational health and safety (OHS) and food safety in the UK. Over the past two decades successive governments have enthusiastically promoted risk as a key concept for regulatory reform and 'better regulation'. Rather than trying to prevent all possible harms, 'risk-based' approaches promise to make regulation more proportionate and effective by using various risk-based metrics and policy instruments to focus regulatory goal-setting and enforcement activity on the highest priority risks, as determined through formal assessments of their probability and consequences. Yet despite facing similar external pressures and sharing many historical and structural features as OHS, food safety regulation has proven much less receptive to risk-based reforms of its organizing principles and practices. To explain that puzzle, we consider a range of explanations highlighted in the policy transfer and mobilities literatures, including: historic path dependencies and regulatory crises; interest group power and configuration; legal tradition and international mandate; accountability structures and professional group proclivities. We conclude with wider reflections about the significance of our cases for policy transfer and mobilities research and for the limits to risk as a universal principle for organising, and accounting for, governance activity.
Regulation can be a key tool to help governments manage risks. The financial crisis has reinforced concern that governments have not done enough to integrate risk management into the design and management of regulations and the functions of regulatory bodies. Formal guidelines for risk prioritisation, assessment, management, and communication may help governments cope with this regulatory governance gap. Themes that should be addressed in such guidelines include optimal risk taking, processes for preparing formal risk assessment reports, the analytic treatment of scientific uncertainty about risk, ranking risks and risk-reduction opportunities, precaution and the value of information, ancillary risks and benefits, transparency of governmental procedures, cross-department co-ordination, public/stakeholder participation and capacity building. The governments of Canada, the USA and the UK as well as the European Commission have already moved in this direction with formal policy statements on risk.
Applying the new economics of organization and relational theories of the firm to the problem of understanding cross‐national variation in the political economy, this volume elaborates a new understanding of the institutional differences that characterize the ‘varieties of capitalism’ found among the developed economies. Building on a distinction between ‘liberal market economies’ and ‘coordinated market economies’, it explores the impact of these variations on economic performance and many spheres of policy‐making, including macroeconomic policy, social policy, vocational training, legal decision‐making, and international economic negotiations. The volume examines the institutional complementarities across spheres of the political economy, including labour markets, markets for corporate finance, the system of skill formation, and inter‐firm collaboration on research and development that reinforce national equilibria and give rise to comparative institutional advantages, notably in the sphere of innovation where LMEs are better placed to sponsor radical innovation and CMEs to sponsor incremental innovation. By linking managerial strategy to national institutions, the volume builds a firm‐centred comparative political economy that can be used to assess the response of firms and governments to the pressures associated with globalization. Its new perspectives on the welfare state emphasize the role of business interests and of economic systems built on general or specific skills in the development of social policy. It explores the relationship between national legal systems, as well as systems of standards setting, and the political economy. The analysis has many implications for economic policy‐making, at national and international levels, in the global age.