Worker participation, and the management of health and safety in Britain and Germany
This thesis focuses on the participation of worker representatives in the management of health and safety at workplace level in Britain and Germany. Case studies were carried out in both the public and private sectors, largely based on semi-structured interviews with key personnel in the regulation of safety, but also involving the analysis of company and sectoral information on accident prevention, the observation of meetings and information briefings at various organisational levels, and the use of questionnaires in two cases. The main aims of the research have been to illuminate the tensions inherent in attempts to guarantee safe workplaces and to prevent accidents through analysis of the functions and contributions that worker representatives, union officials and managers make within formal and informal practices of involvement and participation. The reason behind a cross-national perspective lay in the similarities that exist in the regulation of health and safety, and the radical differences in the structures of trade union and workplace representation that exist in the two countries. I found that employment in the public and private sectors embodies different conceptions of both the extent and quality of work pressure. Within this, capital intensive workplaces are more likely to obscure fundamental tensions between the pursuit of profit and the provision of safe working conditions. The role of management is of central importance in screening and shaping the particular way in which involvement (statutory/non-statutory; formal/informal) in safety regulation takes place. In each workplace, formal mechanisms for participation were marginalised, albeit in different ways. Furthermore, I found that extensions to the basic floor of rights in the regulation of health and safety were dependent on a range of factors external to the specific nature of protective legislation itself. In particular, the control of work, and the pace of work especially, seems to act as a critical factor in the relationship between hazard generation/prevention on the one hand, and forms of participation and involvement in safety regulation on the other. I argue in the thesis that safety regulation is inherently a collective issue. The research shows the different ways in which disaggregative factors obstruct the expression of collective interests in health and safety management. Both management and workers are heterogeneous groups, onto which it is difficult to apply simple notions of interest. In addition, forms of collective regulation of workplace safety must co-exist with the highly individualised context in which accidents, and the blame for accidents, take place. Furthermore, effective participation in safety management depends on the degree to which safety can be made t1visible 11 alongside more traditional industrial relations agenda items such as pay. Finally, I argue that the mutually reinforcing relationship between the two channels of worker representation in Germany has been overstated in the existing literature, with this research pointing to a more clear-cut separation of functions between the two bodies, and to the existence of an imbalance in the legitimacy of the two bodies in safety participation at workplace level. Furthermore, cumulative-type relationships in the regulation of safety appear to depend more on the particular working, organisational and sectoral environment in which management takes place in each country, than on the formal legislative provisions for participation that separate Germany from Britain.