Criminalization and Occupational Health and Safety Research Paper

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Work can be a dangerous place and provides the context for a multitude of deaths, injuries, and illnesses. These include those arising from major disasters, such as the chemical plant explosion at Bhopal, India, in 1984 or at Piper Alpha in the North Sea in 1988 and more recently in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. There are the fatalities reported in local newspapers: deaths from a fall at a building site, a tractor rollover, the death of a truck driver on the road, and death from asphyxiation due to a trench collapse. Fatal and chronic illnesses are also important outcomes of work: heart attacks, cancers, lung disease, and the multitude of chronic ailments that arise from exposure to chemicals and other hazards both in the course of work and as a consequence of events like Bhopal and Chernobyl. Then, there are the legacies from particular occupations that lead to chronic disability: back pain from nursing, broken knees from carpet-laying, and repetitive strain injury from typing. Indeed, some ailments take their name specifically from work-related tasks: potter’s lung, policeman’s heel, and housemaid’s knee.

The relationship between the harms above and criminalization as a means to reduce this toll of deaths, injuries, and illnesses is complex. Understanding criminalization in the context of occupational health and safety (OHS) requires analysis of the economic, social, and political context within which organizational and individual practices arise that lead to death, injury, and illness. Further, laws – including criminal prohibitions – are themselves a result of the interrelationship between economic, political, and social factors. Indeed, these elements often are evident in the contests around what should and should not be proscribed and prescribed by law. This research paper begins with a brief overview of the nature of the problem of safety globally. Then, literature on the history of OHS law and enforcement is reviewed in order to tease apart the multiple layers of the connection between criminalization and safety at work. This history illustrates the enduring importance of key elements. These elements include the need to pay close attention to the demands of a capitalist economy and its impact on health and safety at work, the concern governments have to retain legitimacy through enacting (but not necessarily enforcing) law, the challenges of dealing with the letter of the law, and placing the variety of regulatory techniques that have been developed over time in an appropriately local and global context.

Occupational Health And Safety: A Global Problem

Rates of OHS-related physical harm remain problematically high within modern industrial societies. In 2007 (the last year for which full comparative figures are available), there were 5,785 deaths at work across the 27 EU member states; this translates into an adjusted rate of approximately 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers (Eurostat 2010: 347). In the USA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries placed the number of fatal injuries to workers for 2008 at 5,214, or 3.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. In Canada, there were 1,036 work-related deaths in 2008, in Australia 444 in 2009 (286 “working” fatalities, 117 out-of-work fatalities, and 44 public or bystander fatalities), and in Japan 1,075. Death, illness, and injury due to poor working conditions extend well beyond the industrialized world. While the ILO recorded 18,067 fatal occupational “accidents” in 2003, the true rate is thought to be as high as 357,948, with a further 1.95 million deaths from work-related ill health (cited in H€am€al€ainen et al. 2009: 129). The vast majority of these deaths occur in the industrializing world, with China (97,248 accidents and 332,454 ill health), India (46,928 accidents and 355,863 ill health), and Indonesia (15,873 accidents and 61,572 ill health) featuring prominently. Africa is thought to account for over 470,000 work-related deaths each year.

These statistics, though, should be treated with caution. The data are incomplete, as many injuries and deaths are not reported or recorded, even in industrialized nations with established administrative systems; the statistics available for many industrializing nations, which lack this infrastructure, are so sketchy as to be almost unusable. What counts as a death or injury at work also differs. Some jurisdictions (Australia being an example) have an inclusive definition, including workers, nonworkers, and deaths on the road (as a working driver and as a commuter), while most others have a much narrower definition (the UK excludes deaths on the road, and the USA excludes deaths to nonworkers). Incidents of occupational ill health (and resultant deaths) also tend to fall outside the statistics, primarily because they are harder to quantify accurately (see Tombs and Whyte 2007). For this reason, any comparison between countries and jurisdictions needs to be treated carefully. Nonetheless, it is clear that the problem is substantial and requires criminological attention.

The Criminalization Phenomenon: The Legacy Of History

Criminologists can learn much from the history of OHS regulation – and from interpretations of that history. These interpretations include those who see primarily a progression towards greater civilization and higher standards. These authors point to the way the law has extended formal protections to an ever-widening portion of the working population, thereby reflecting broader democratizing trends within society (Thomas 1948). Others are more skeptical and see rather a complex deference to the demands of capital, contingent on local conditions (Carson 1979, 1980). Through a series of papers, Kit Carson argued that laws developed in the context of the industrial revolution in a manner that allowed industrialization and laissez-faire capitalism to thrive. Law reform served various purposes. The laws mediated competition within the emerging industrial class, as well as disciplining factory workers to obey the clock rather than the seasons (Carson 1979). But reform needed to take place in a way that ensured that the political legitimacy of the incumbent government was preserved. This was no easy task since critical voices in the Parliament argued that the toll on health that resulted from factory labor threatened the military capacity of the nation.

Critically, both these interpretations of history, the civilizing and the critical, pointed to an important finding – namely that law reform did not necessarily mean adequate enforcement (Almond 2013; Carson 1979; Thomas 1948; Tombs and Whyte 2007). Law reform might be a powerful symbol of change, but implementation was another matter. Diverse interpretations of the industrial revolution in England, in short whether there was an identity of interest between workers and employers, were echoed in subsequent reforms that took place in the 1970s, when the debate centered on whether there was, or was not, a consensus between workers and employers regarding the need for a safe workplace. This period has been identified as the “third wave” of safety regulation, which followed periods of regulation by contract (first wave) and by prescriptive rules (second wave) (Tucker 1995). A key figure of this period, Lord Robens, argued strongly that laws and regulations needed to be framed to enhance this common interest (Robens 1972). In particular, strict prescriptive rules determining what was, or was not, safe should give way to a focus on safe outcomes (through performance standards) and the processes by which they could be assured.

The debates around the value of prescription or performance standards can be viewed in several ways. The first way is to evaluate the various arguments to identify which approach is more effective in reducing death, injury, and illness. From a perspective of evaluation prescription can play an important role, for example, in restricting access to confined spaces to prevent asphyxiation. But prescriptive standards can miss critical issues such as risky work processes (such as factory production lines). Further, prescriptive standards can quickly become obsolete as technology changes over time. Viewed in light of these limitations to prescription, the philosophical shift to performance standards begun in the 1970s was timely. However, it was also important in light of its economic and political context. The development of the Robens model needs to be understood in the context of 1970s Britain and in particular the centrality and subsequent decline of the coal industry. Robens, with his history in the union movement and his chairmanship of the National Coal Board was seen as “the voice of industrial common sense.” His status and biography, straddling both union and management, meant that his ideas could gain traction. Key among these ideas was the need for a flexible regulatory approach that had at its core a focus on the need for safety, the essence of a performance approach (Tucker 1995). Indeed, “Robens-style” legislation, albeit with some important differences in emphasis, was adopted broadly across anglophile countries.

A key difference in emphasis between countries was the need for employee representation and in the role of the unions. The state of Victoria, Australia, emphasized the need for clear worker representation in OHS at the same time as it moved to institutionalize performance standards. The level of control provided to workers within Robens-style legislation was seen as critical to its effectiveness. But an emphasis on worker representation also needs to take account of what kind of representation it is. An important influence on the development of OHS after Robens in the UK was the decline of union power during the Thatcher period in the 1980s. This is because performance standards emphasize the need to internalize safe systems of work and a safety management culture within corporate processes but, in doing so, they also “normalize” OHS risks by assuming that “the risks associated with increased efficiency and profitability can be responsibly managed and contained” (Silbey 2009: 343). This leaves unexamined the fundamental role played by the economic power of employers in determining exposure to risk in the first place. In this way, the neoliberal approach of contemporary governments is embedded via the movement of OHS away from the contested political sphere of prescription standards and industrial relations and towards the relatively uncontested arena of internal business procedures. The impact on the decline of union power on the development of performance standards, and indeed, levels of prescription, is complex. It is possible, for example, to understand prescriptive standards as the end point of negotiation about what it is and is not acceptable for an employer to ask an employee to do. Unions play a prominent role in this process. It is interesting to note that there remains a higher level of prescriptiveness within European health and safety regulations (where union representation in general is higher), a difference which causes friction within the EU (Walters 1996).

In short, any claim of “consensus” around safety between employers and employees needs to be viewed as contingent and fragile. Without adequate worker participation, or where levels of industrial conflict are high, “consensus” quickly breaks down (Gunningham and Sinclair 2009). A vivid example of this is in the role and effectiveness of health and safety representatives. Health and safety representatives, together with health and safety committees, can be an effective way for employees to voice their safety concerns to management and have them resolved quickly and effectively (James and Walters 2002). Yet, an increasing neoliberal emphasis on individual responsibility in the OHS regulatory framework can change the safety representative’s task, reducing their role to one of policing fellow workers’ “unsafe behavior,” such as nonuse of protective safety equipment, and fining them for “breaches” of locally generated safety procedures (Gray 2009). This is an inversion of the role as it was conceived within places such as Victoria, Australia, as the “consensus” shifts from tripartite (employer, employee, and government) responsibility for safety to an overriding emphasis on worker responsibility to ensure a safe workplace. Techniques and regulatory strategies (in this case the role of health and safety reps) must be understood and interrogated in context.

Debates around the need for industrial manslaughter legislation to ensure a safe workplace are similarly complex. These debates are often couched in the need to emphasize adequate enforcement of OHS law (rather than just a focus on content) and the need for significant penalties to apply (Tombs and Whyte 2007). Many argue that an industrial manslaughter offense, a version of a homicide offense, is required to ensure safety at work. This would allow the communicative power of the “mainstream” criminal law to be applied to an individual or company following a workplace fatality. An offense of this sort was introduced into UK law via the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (Almond 2013) and was successfully used for the first time to convict a corporation of manslaughter in early 2011. Yet, for others, the demand for a “new” criminal offense concedes too much to history. That is, occupational health and safety legislation, properly conceived, always was and should remain criminal (Johnstone 2007). These authors argue that OHS law has been improperly conventionalized as quasi-criminal and that reform and enforcement should focus on using it and reemphasizing its essentially criminal nature. However, over time, the persistent demands for separate industrial manslaughter offenses suggest that the quasi-criminal nature of OHS law remains prominent in the public imagination – at least in some jurisdictions. Recent surveys undertaken in the United Kingdom have shown that OHS breaches are not necessarily regarded as crimes per se, and commonly applied OHS laws are not regarded as having the status or symbolic effect associated with criminal law (Almond and Colover 2010). In general terms, safety laws are regarded rather ambiguously. Nonetheless, this ambiguity is not something that should be accepted unproblematically; it is a product of the struggles seen throughout the history of OHS law reform (Wells 2001).

The problematic status of OHS law as criminal extends also to the consideration of just who or what – should be made accountable. The intricacies of this debate are well outlined in several works including those by Fisse and Braithwaite (1993) and Celia Wells (2001). At issue here is the degree to which individuals and/or organizations should be held accountable. Wells (2001) explores the way criminal law itself has developed with a bias towards the identification of single individuals who need to be made criminally liable for their actions. Her account of history shows how this skews criminal liability onto the weak, while civil liability for physical harm (if any) is placed on the strong. In the OHS context, she points out the difficulties of individual liability within the workplace context. Often in worksites, it is difficult to identify a single individual who is responsible for a death in the workplace. Further, it is not easy simply to add up responsibilities of several individuals and apportion blame accordingly (the so-called aggregation model of responsibility). Rather, there is a system of work or an organizational culture that gives rise to corners being cut and pressures placed on individuals that can lead to disaster and death (Gray 2009; Silbey 2009). On the other hand, those who view the potential of criminal liability in instrumental terms, as a means of achieving a change in behavior via deterrence, advocate the pursuit of individual rather than corporate liability strategies because individual directors and those whose decisions lead to safety violations are more directly deterred by the threat of imprisonment, fines, and reputational sanctions (Gobert 2005; Tombs and Whyte 2007). Teasing apart who should be held responsible, whether there should be corporate criminal liability or whether it should be the most senior manager or executive who should be accountable, forms a considerable part of the relevant literature here. What is clear is that industrial manslaughter offenses, which invariably derive corporate liability from the individual, have proved most successful against small business where lines of communication are clear and noncomplex (Wells 2001). A recognition of this fact was a key factor shaping the recent law reform process in the UK, where a specific “corporate manslaughter” offense, with liability based on a “management failure” model of liability, was introduced in 2007 to replace the existing common-law offense of manslaughter, thereby attempting to remove the requirement that a responsible individual be found as a basis for corporate liability.

The history of reform, both that of targeted OHS law and that of developing a separate industrial manslaughter provision, reemphasizes the importance of taking account of the competing interests that find their way into the law. Certainly, there is no end in sight for these reforms. There is a helpful body of literature that explores whose interests end up written into law as a result of these struggles, as well as the necessary economic conditions for reform to be effective. Dan Curran’s (1993) history of mine safety legislation in the United States shows how reform that could improve safety required not only a strong union presence, but a union with a strong safety focus as well as a high demand for coal and a tight labor supply. And James Gobert’s (2005) work in the English context shows how potentially effective industrial manslaughter provisions were reduced or weakened under pressure from employers. In any case, whether “regulatory” or “criminal,” the laws that emerge in a field like health and safety tend towards compromise reflect the competing interests and levels of influence of the groups that are party to debates in this field.

The Complex Division Between Criminal Behavior, Regulatory Breaches, And Desirable Behavior

Drawing bright lines in law and regulation between what is criminal, what is harmful and what is desirable is difficult. Part of the difficulty here is the way that the benefits of a particular activity or industry are often intertwined with harm. The embedded nature of harm within benefit and the unequal distribution of those harms and benefits means that it is difficult (both politically and practically) to develop precise law or finely targeted regulation that can separate the two. Further, those with interests in the benefits often have unique leverage over policy-making within government. For example, a mine in a particular locale may provide necessary and welcome employment and inward investment to a town, and its continued presence supported by many residents as a result. It may well also provide significant profits for the mine’s owners. Yet, it is miners that are at most risk from death, illness, and injury. So, workplace safety breaches are categorized as side effects of an otherwise purposeful form of wealth-creating industrial activity (which is encouraged), and risks are managed through regulation rather than mining prohibited outright (Hawkins 2002; Kagan and Scholz 1984). Context-rich analyses of criminalization in the context of OHS illustrate well the complexity of the distinction between what is “criminal” behavior and prohibited and what is “merely” a regulatory breach of the law.

While debates around the need for criminalization are important, they can distract attention away from the dynamic within which regulatory strategies (including criminalization) emerge. Again, it can be helpful to go back to Kit Carson’s work (1980), which shows how industrialists’ resistance to criminalization generated new forms of law in an attempt to bring them to account. Notions of mens rea and responsibility were developed in order to frame criminality in terms of individual pathology rather than sociological factors such as poverty and inequality. But safety inspectors found that proving fault in relation to workplace safety breaches was exceedingly difficult and argued for the need for strict liability offenses that did not require intent or mens rea in order to prove a breach. But once in place, the industrialists’ argued that a truly criminal offense must require proof of intent, and so these safety “crimes” were different from “ordinary” deviance in legal form; this meant that they could then be classified as normatively different due to the lack of individual pathology involved (Carson 1979). This change of status was fundamental in legitimating the new laws in the eyes of the industrialists. Understanding enforcement in the OHS context means understanding why enforcement is responsive to the regulated – including strategies to deal with the level of political influence the industry is able to exert. Regulators find it difficult to rigorously enforce safety standards in the face of political ambivalence (Haines 2011). Hence, in the face of resistance, it is not surprising that enforcement officers seek legal provisions that are more easily proved, which gave rise to debates around ambiguity and criminality.

This can be characterized as a problem of assimilation and differentiation; the problems of assimilating industrial offenders into existing concepts of fault proved insurmountable due to the fundamental individualism of the criminal law. From one perspective, strict liability offenses weakened the law, but from another, they at least allowed inspectors to prove an illegality against a corporate defendant. This “double shift” towards and then away from criminalization was born out of necessity and the strictures of a criminal system developed to deal with working-class “unruliness.” Hence, the “quasi-criminal” or regulatory character of the law developed from this point. The impact of this history of ambiguity on current government policy continues to be felt. For example, similar arguments attached to the “reasonable practicability” defense contained in the UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HWSA). The absolute duty for employers to provide a safe workplace was mitigated by requiring that the costs of breaching the law outweigh the cost of prevention. This had the effect of legitimating the HSWA in the eyes of business without introducing any kind of “moralizing” mens rea element into play; at the same time, this requirement acts as a de facto fault element, in that it allows regulators to differentiate between “respectable” businesses and the morally culpable “bad apples” (Hawkins 2002). But such a requirement arguably also shields companies from rigorous enforcement by introducing a utilitarian calculus into the question of safety protection, allowing what should be an absolute moral obligation to be sidestepped where the costs of doing so would be detrimental to business competitiveness.

There is another important result of this “responsiveness”; the diversity of law and enforcement techniques implemented in various jurisdictions. In the past 40 years or more, a proliferation of different techniques has developed in the OHS context. These techniques span different forms of penalties, such as “on the spot” fines and enforceable undertakings measures, and those that attempt to govern organizational behavior such as safety management systems or individual action in minute detail such as behavior-based safety training. Also important to understand are self-regulatory systems that include a wide array of accreditation schemes (often put in place by business defensively to preempt legislative reform) through to what Ayres and Braithwaite (1992) term enforced self-regulation: the safety case model in the regulation of major hazard facilities such as chemical plants and oil refineries. This latter case, when properly implemented, needs to be understood as far more than self-regulation. Under this model, each plant must come up with fine-grained and clearly articulated rules around safety at their facility. These are checked and, if satisfactory, approved by the regulator who then enforces this unique set of rules (the “safety case”) as it applies to each individual plant. Each of these initiatives above can, and should, command attention in terms of how far they provide an incentive for improved OHS standards on the ground.

Legal, organizational, and behaviorally focused techniques also need to be understood in context. This context includes contests over: (i) the definition of what laws should, or should not, pertain to the workplace; (ii) what is, and is not, acceptable in terms of both risk and behavior; and ultimately (iii) if death, injury, or illness occur, who should be held responsible and for what. There are a broad range of actors with potential influence here. There are the three major players: the government, the employers, and the employees. Further, inspection and enforcement officers need separate consideration to that of the government as their practices, formal and informal policies, and decision-making processes are significant in shaping regulatory outcomes. In particular, the work of scholars associated with the UK’s Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies has shown how regulators utilize discretion, negotiation, and bargain and bluff, in order to maximize their influence while facing severe resource constraints (Hawkins 2002; Hutter 1997). In such cases, they need to find creative ways to implement the law and to generate higher standards. This can prove difficult, if not impossible.

Placing Regulation And Law In Context: The Direct Impact Of Economic Conditions

Important as law, regulation, and enforcement are to OHS standards, it is important to recognize that economic conditions also have a significant impact on safety. We noted above that small businesses were at most risk from prosecution under industrial manslaughter provisions in the UK. But small businesses in some sectors can have lower safety standards because of their weak position in the market place, both as discrete entities and as part of a contracting chain (Haines 1997). They have neither the financial nor human resources to invest in safety to the same degree as their large business counterparts. As a result, the safety afforded to employees of small businesses can suffer. This finding on small business also needs to be extended to include the contracting relationships prevalent in some industries (e.g., construction) and increasing in others due to increasing levels of contract labor and the decision by some companies to contract out non-core parts of their business operations, such as cleaning or maintenance (James et al. 2007). This can create problems for safety. Firstly, these businesses may be small and so less able to ensure the safety of their employees. Secondly, the degree to which they can focus on safety may be dependent upon the contract price they are able to obtain; when stiff competition drives this price down, levels of safety can decline. Because of this, certain jurisdictions have enacted what is known as “chain of responsibility” legislation, making principal contractors responsible for the safety of subcontractors’ employees. This is a good example of law that is sensitive to economic conditions. But not all jurisdictions have these laws, or implement them effectively, and where they are absent, real problems in safety levels can arise (James et al. 2007).

Finally, there has recently been an increased attention paid to workplace stress and its impact on ill health. For some, categorizing workplace stress as a health and safety issue is a step too far, but stress has been associated with significantly decreased life expectancy (La Montagne et al. 2007). In particular, work which is time pressured, but where individuals have little control over the pattern of their work, is particularly hazardous. Also, being at the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of power over the conditions of work within a workplace has been shown to have detrimental health effects, a key finding of the prominent Whitehall studies (see, e.g., Marmot and Smith 1991). The implication of this research is that a narrow intervention of the kind often associated with health and safety initiatives is unlikely to be effective. Rather, what is needed is a wholesale reorganization of work itself. Achieving such change seems at a considerable distance from the debates around the proper boundaries of the criminal law. But they share a similar feature in that reorganizing work in a manner consistent with the promotion of health, as with determining what is and is not criminal behavior, is politically fraught and likely to engender strong opposition from those who benefit from current ways of working.

Globalization, Criminalization, And Workplace Safety

Much current OHS research focuses on deaths, illnesses, and injuries that take place in the industrialized world, but (as stated at the outset of this research paper) these are global problems. There are many high-profile examples of industrial disasters in industrializing countries, like Bhopal, mentioned at the beginning of this research paper. Another example is provided by the Kader toy factory fire that occurred in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1993 (Haines 2005), which resulted in 183 deaths. Many lethal factory fires share similar features, including poor building design, oppressive working conditions, and substandard fire safety procedures. The role the criminal law can play in the aftermath of these disasters is also noteworthy and problematic, particularly in terms of who those laws seek to target. In the case of the Kader fire, it was a worker that was jailed for 10 years for causing the fire because he failed to extinguish the butt of his cigarette. His contribution was minor and pales into insignificance in light of inadequate building and fire safety standards at the Kader factory. Criminalization, in an international context, can act to scapegoat individuals at the expense of dealing with systemic problems. The international diffusion of corporate criminal liability has been driven in no small part by the prompting of international organizations like the OECD. This has the potential to “drive up” the value and effectiveness of regulatory processes in developing nations, but their implementation in very different jurisdictions can lead to problematic outcomes.

The globalization of trade also has an appreciable impact on OHS. There are ever increasing numbers of global supply chains where the most risky jobs are located in rapidly industrializing contexts (James et al. 2007). China provides a salutary lesson in this regard; in the scramble for traction in the new world economy, the maximization of economic growth has taken precedence over the enforcement of effective safety regulations. Chinese industry seeks to undercut production costs (and hence safety standards) elsewhere in the world and, in doing so, sets the floor for workplace conditions in competing developing nations. Governments of the Global South thus prioritize the need to attracting inward investment to spur economic growth over demands for improvement in safety levels. The challenge of OHS from a global perspective contains similar complexities to those reflected in the discussion earlier in this research paper, in that harm is embedded within the benefits of international trade, including employment and income for individuals, extended families, and local communities. But this should not excuse the behavior of multinational corporations which scour the globe in order to find where production is cheapest and safety and environmental standards low. The strength and weaknesses of various industrializing states under global competition needs careful analysis, however. It should not be assumed that states such as Thailand, China, or India have no room to develop an effective OHS regime; indeed, local responses that are sensitive to local conditions can be more effective than those simply transplanted from the Global North (Haines 2005). Hence, a failure, or success, in improving safety needs to be evaluated in light of local political contests in addition to the impact of global economic conditions.


This research paper has argued that the connections between processes of criminalization and occupational health and safety need to be understood within the historical context of the recurrent struggles that have always accompanied law reform in this area. The ambiguous legal standing of OHS law is a result of the struggles in defining what is seen as acceptable within the workplace environment, as well as perceptions of the law’s capacity to effectively secure acceptable behavior on the part of the regulated. But at the same time, regulation here is about the value of human life and the capacity for one person to place another at risk.

It is about the pursuit of a fair and just system of economic citizenship, and there are important debates about how best to advance these values and the role that the notionally “moral” criminal law should play in this process. Is it more important to try and reinforce the normative value of health and safety regulation via the communicative power of the criminal law or to avoid doing so because of the disruptive, individualizing, and distracting impact that such action can have? The contest around criminalization should not simply be one around the need for industrial manslaughter but to understand the history of OHS law in different contexts and the nature of criminal law within the workplace itself.

The struggles and contests also reflect broader economic, political, and social change. Just as prescription can be seen as a result of various contests, so too the Robens model’s emphasis on the consensus of interests needs to be understood within the context of the welfare state in Britain in the 1970s. It is not surprising that this expansive view has been challenged by the rise of neoliberalism and the regulatory state. But this is not simply a return to the past. Hence, the importance and effectiveness of health and safety representatives and committees depends critically upon local context. In one area, it can represent a very real opportunity for representation of those whose lives are most at risk. Yet, in another, it can signal the return of an emphasis on individual responsibility and victim blaming. These struggles and contests are reflected in attempts to introduce new criminal offenses and penalties to sanction egregious failing by employers for their negligence. The push to criminalize is met with resistance, which in turn is met on occasions with capitulation but also with creativity.

It is in this political milieu that multiple techniques have been adopted to try and raise standards. These need careful scrutiny. In particular, the same initiative can work quite differently depending on economic and political context – including whether strong unions that priorities safety are, or are not, present. The constantly changing nature of production and consumption, too, places significant challenges in the path of improving standards. There is now much greater complexity to relations between businesses and a real need for OHS to be included in relations between businesses, not just within the confines of one firm. Finally, economic globalization and the presence of supply chains for particular goods and services spanning the globe make law reform and adequate enforcement of standards difficult. It is a context, however, in which a criminological analysis that is cognizant of the economic and political dimensions of the problem has much to offer.


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