Global Epidemic of Occupational Workplace Injury

Wednesday, 6 July 2011  Features

Are new Workplace Health and Safety laws in Europe creating lawlessness instead of deregulation?

Professor Andrew Watterson from Stirling University argues that they are, and will explain his views in a seminar this Thursday. He says "there is a global epidemic of occupational disease and workplace injury."

He says "Governments are in denial about the toll of workplace disease and injuries on their citizens and yet try to get injured and ill workers back to where they can earn a living. Paradoxically, regulations and enforcement are increasingly designed to get such workers back into the workplace, often in bad jobs and with damaging consequences."

Professor Watterson says "In Australia, in some respects and using some crude indicators, there is a better record on occupational health and safety than in the UK, but some of this advantage is under threat from deregulation." He points to the use of "responsive regulation" in Australia, which often removes some of the stakeholders from the consultation process. This approach has led to problems in regulating mines in Queensland.

Professor Watterson argues that both Australia and the UK underreport the incidence of serious occupational disease and work-related deaths, which supports the argument for more effective regulation rather than less. Andrew Watterson is the Director of the Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research and Head of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University in Scotland. He says "better alternatives exist to help employers protect their employees from illness and injury and hence benefit our society. Laissez-faire economics has been increasingly used in recent decades, underpinning neo-liberal ideologies, to argue for various market mechanisms to 'control working conditions' including occupational health and safety rather than regulations."

He has studied the regulation of workplace health and safety, and says "there have been moves both at UK national and European Union level since the 1980s to reduce or remove such legislation. This has been primarily led by Dutch and UK politicians (from both Conservative and Labour sides) who have drawn on US policies. Despite recent global financial failures linked to poor or no regulations and weak enforcement, the pressure to deregulate occupational health and safety has increased further over the past year, underpinned by past initiatives from three UK Chancellors of the Exchequer and other ministers."

He is a visiting academic at the Australian School of Business, and is working with Professor Mic​​hael Quinlan on environmental aspects of workplace health and safety.

The seminar will explore these developments in the context of coal mining and oil refineries and relate them to the wider evidence base available on occupational diseases and injuries in the UK.

"Deregulation or Lawlessness in Workplace Health and Safety"
When: Thursday 7 July 3:30pm
Where: Level 6 West Wing, Australian School of Business building, UNSW.

For comment please contact Associate Professor Anne Junor, the Deputy Director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre at the Australian School of Business on 02 9385 7141 or email