Old Lessons for New Governance: Safety or Profit and the New Conventional Wisdom

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New governance theory has a large following in academia and is influential in numerous spheres of regulatory policy (see Davies, 2011, for a critical discussion). Yet in the area of occupational health and safety, new governance is hardly new at all. Indeed, it is fair to say that in many ways what are now labeled new governance concepts were first articulated and applied in the 1972 Robens Report, Safety and Health at Work. This included its critique of command and control legislation and its emphasis on the development of better self-regulation. In Robens’ words (1972: para. 41): Thus, it is particularly fitting that we return to Theo Nichols and Peter Armstrong’s early critique of the Robens Report for some old lessons for new governance in occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation (Nichols and Armstrong, 1973). While much of their monograph criticized the Robens report (1972) for blaming apathy as the underlying source of workplace injuries (which justified its call for more self-regulation), Nichols and Armstrong’s response was that a proper understanding of risk creation had to take as its starting point the pressure for production generated within capitalist relations of production. From their political economy perspective, the central regulatory problem was how to counteract the pressure to prioritize production over safety, and their solution required shifting power over production to workers on the shop floor.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSafety or Profit?
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Studies in Governance, Change and the Work Environment
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781351860017
ISBN (Print)9780895038180
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


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