Varieties of Risk Regulation in Europe: How Different Countries Address the Problem of Trade-Offs in Occupational Health and Safety Regulation

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.1.02 (Tower One)
Henry Rothstein, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
Analysis of the goals of occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation in EU member states suggests that while the UK legally mandates risk-cost-benefit trade-offs, continental countries insist on ambitious goals of safety. At first sight, this is consistent with the Varieties of Capitalism literature that suggests workers are likely to be better protected in co-ordinated rather than liberal market economies. Detailed analysis of OHS regimes in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and France, however, suggests that a narrow focus on headline regulatory goals misses the way that each country makes regulatory cost-benefit trade-offs on safety. In particular, the analysis demonstrates that the nature and outcome of trade-offs substantially varies according to the degree of coupling between regulation and national social insurance regimes, and according to national legal traditions of common and civil law.

For example, the analysis shows that while Germany and France may like to portray the Anglo-Saxon practice of explicitly valuing life in regulation as a cultural anathema, those countries instead put a price on life through their highly interventionist social insurance regimes. Indeed, while the strong social insurance regimes of co-ordinated market economies may favour getting workers back to work, the more explicit risk-based regulatory focus of liberal market economies may favour preventing accidents and ill-health in the first place. Likewise, national legal traditions are important because they significantly shape the meaning attached to headline regulatory goals and the way in which they are implemented by regulators and are interpreted by the courts. Thus an ambitious regulatory goal of safety in a civil law jurisdiction will have very different set of legal implications to a similar goal in common law jurisdictions.

As such, the article identifies a novel set of institutional factors to explain risk regulation variety that are little to do with 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. Rather risk regulation variety reflects deep institutional differences in national European political economies and philosophies of regulation, some of which pre-date the birth of capitalism itself.