Human Resource Management and Occupational Health and Safety

By Carol Boyd | Go to book overview
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The verdict

Our starting position was a review of some of the assumptions contained in the HRM literature. Based on the many flaws identified in these assumptions, we set the question: ‘To what extent is HRM capable of providing the optimal conditions for “good” OHS policy, practice and outcomes?’ A key sticking point was the suggestion that HRM is inherently unethical on a number of counts, most of which were based in neo-classical and neo-liberal economic theories. In Chapter Two, many of the flaws of free market logic were exposed in relation to their bearing on employee rights and protection. Almost grasping at straws, we suggested that HRM’s basic congruence with prevailing economic theory did not necessarily lead to negative consequences for OHS. Then followed the range of economic rationalisations and ‘good business cases’ for the responsible and ethical management of health and safety. Indeed, in later chapters, some success stories were relayed about how HRM principles had been successfully applied to HSM, particularly those relating to TQM. A ‘continuous-improvement’ approach seemed to appear most prominently in the ‘high-risk’ industries, although, as noted, often as a result of a serious accident. A central feature of these programmes was the high level of employee involvement and participation in day-to-day health and safety management. However, while offering a range of good ideas for practitioners seeking to enhance their organisation’s approach to HSM, the undeniable vulnerability of these programmes was apparent given that their very existence depended on a benevolent management.

At this point, the inherently political nature of OHS took centre stage. Past and present, conflicts of interest are central to the employment relationship and, as we noted, to most human relationships. And while the means used to resolve different or opposing interests are a good indicator of the nature of ‘democracy’ in any society, policymakers’ approach to democratic employment relations appeared remarkably similar to that of a dog owner. For example, employees around the world in First-, Second- and Third-World countries appeared to be, albeit to quite different degrees, kept on a tight rein, with policymakers giving up a little slack each time the metaphoric dog growled too loudly. The collective constraints of restrictive trade union legislation and diluted employment rights appeared as the


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