New Modes of Shaping Social Change?
Edited by Regine Paul, Marc Mölders, Alfons Bora, Michael Huber and Peter Münte
Chapter 4: Why states think about risk differently: the case of workplace safety regulation in France and the UK
This chapter 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 with a risk-based regulatory strategy, 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 that workers are better protected in coordinated than in liberal market economies. However, that claim is challenged through a detailed analysis of OHS regimes in the UK 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, the chapter shows how the nature and outcome of those trade-offs substantially vary according to the degree of coupling between regulation and welfare regimes, and national traditions of common and civil law. As such, the chapter offers a novel explanation for risk regulation and governance variety that emphasizes deep institutional differences among welfare states in the organization of the political economy and their philosophies of regulation. While risk-based rationalization may count as a universal strategy to shape societal outcomes intentionally despite the limits of contemporary governance, our findings evidence stark institutional and ideational limits of such novel regulatory approaches. The empirical identification of these diffusion limits also reflects that what is and is not “shapeable”, and how it continues to differ across settings.
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