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When ‘Must’ Means ‘Maybe’: Varieties of Risk Regulation and the Problem of Trade-offs in Europe. HowSAFE Working Paper, No. 1

Research output: Working paper/PreprintWorking paper

Henry Frederick Rothstein, Anne-Laure Marie Veronique Beaussier, Olivier Borraz, Frederic Bouder, David Burgess Demeritt, Martin de Haan, Michael Huber, Regine Paul, Mara Wesseling

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon: KCL
Number of pages21
VolumeNo. 1


King's Authors


This paper 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, 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 literature which suggests workers are better protected in co-ordinated than in liberal market economies. However, we challenge those claims through a
detailed analysis of OHS regimes in the UK, Netherlands, Germany 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, we show how the nature and outcome of those trade-offs substantially vary according to the degree of coupling between regulation and welfare regimes, and to national traditions of common and civil law. As such, we offer a novel explanation for risk regulation and governance variety that emphasises deep institutional differences among welfare states in the organization of the political economy and their philosophies of regulation.

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