A Generalisable Promise of Risk? Risk-Based Self-Regulation and the Inherent Limits of State Intervention in German Occupational Health and Safety Governance

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:40 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Regine PAUL , Sociology, Law and Society Unit, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Michael HUBER , Sociology, Law and Society Unit, University of Bielefeld, Germany
In Anglo-Saxon academic discussions risk-based governance (RBG) has been identified as a method for rationalizing corporate and public governance processes top-down, i.e. offering a central management vision that can then ‘colonize’ other domains and organisations in regulatory processes. As such, risk seems to entail a universally applicable promise for central governments to remedy blame for failure all while managing tight budgets. But does this hold true in distinct institutional settings?

Starting from the empirical observation of occupational health & safety policies (OHS) in an international research project (HowSAFE), we find that, in Germany, risk approaches largely emerge in arenas outside the central state, with normative justifications, governance forms and organisational logics that seriously contradict Anglo-Saxon state-centric RBG notions. Moreover, regulation of workplace risks in German policies is characterised less by a coherent risk strategy than by pockets of risk-based governance. These have emerged, for instance:

⁃    in the funding structure of the public accident insurance (classifying companies into risk groups)

⁃    in research priority setting and prevention campaigns of mutual trade associations

⁃    in inspection strategies of the Lander (risk-rationalizing the use of limited control resources)

These fragmented and scattered risk approaches in German OHS raise the issue of risk-based self-regulation as a so far rather misrecognised form of risk governance. To enlighten this blind spot, this paper examines the role of territorial self-regulation by the sixteen Lander in OHS policy enforcement and public self-regulation by nine para-public organisations which govern the accident insurance, compensation and prevention in specific economic sectors. We show how self-regulation absorbs blame for failure and cost-bearing and contains RBG relatively unencumbered by the state. We argue that self-regulation inherently limits accountability pressures for central government, thus dismisses the promise of risk, and challenges some key conceptual and empirical claims of the Anglo-Saxon risk regulation research.