Torn Between Equality Norms and Risk-Based Governance Stimuli? Comparing the Role of Professions in Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in Germany and the United Kingdom

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:42 PM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Michael HUBER , Sociology, Law and Society Unit, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Regine PAUL , Sociology, Law and Society Unit, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Risk-based governance provides, inter alia, the means to target regulatory interventions by the probability of the occurrence of 'bads' and their impact. For example, in 2005, the influential British Hampton Review suggested to target workplace inspections in occupational health and safety (OHS) policies in a novel manner: not the threat of injury should allocate resources, but high probability and/or spectacular injuries. However, the unequal treatment of workers in risk-based OHS regimes raises tensions for the professional ethos of occupational physicians or safety engineers. While professions define the critical values of acceptable, tolerable and inacceptable harms and consult companies on their OHS management, their role regarding the (non)spread of risk-based regulation is still underexplored.

Based on findings from the international research project HowSAFE this paper identifies key tensions between professional dedications to treating the health and safety of all workers equally and risk-based approaches which would focus on particularly frequent and/or costly health damages as defining element of OHS regulation. To do so, we compare the professional receptiveness towards risk-based OHS governance across institutional settings, focusing on occupational physicians and safety engineers as two influential professional groups in the domain. We compare and explain their role in German and British OHS governance. We argue that variation in treatment of occupational illness across countries depends -- apart from historical and legal conditions -- on the organisational structure of professions (e.g. regulatory agencies vs. professional associations) within the OHS domain and nuances in professional identity. We thus explain, for example, why the ranking of diseases and risks seems relatively acceptable in the UK, while the medical profession in Germany treats each case as particular and largely rejects risk-based targeting as non-compatible with their professional norms. Eventually, major tensions for professions are located between the efficient use of resources and equal treatment norms.