Accident and Design: Contemporary Debates in Risk Management

By Christopher Hood; David K. C. Jones | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN

Participation in risk management decisions

TO WHAT EXTENT IS RISK MANAGEMENT BEST LEFT TO EXPERTS?

A sixth area of debate concerns the optimum size and composition of the groups involved in making decisions on risk management issues. In other words, should as wide a range of people as possible have access to information on risks and be involved in management decision-making, or are there certain categories of risk that should be solely the domain of the “expert”.

In one camp are those who are critical of narrow “technocrat” participation in decisions on sensitive issues, such as nuclear waste transportation (cf. Kirby 1988), and advocate extension of the “peer communities” who have, traditionally, been involved in risk management. The case for extension can be put in several ways. One is that opening up the relevant decisions and monitoring processes to wider scrutiny and attention from the multiple stakeholders involved will result in better-informed and less error-prone decisions. For example, the RCEP report (1989:47, para. 6.39) noted that “The discovery of the environmental effects of DDT, leading eventually to its banning, is attributed to amateur ornithologists who noticed the decline in populations of peregrine falcons and other birds of prey” and went on to propose a broad basis of environmental monitoring activities. Extension of participation may also be argued to bring different scientific perspectives to bear. For example, some social scientists argue (see Sime 1985) that engineering-based crowd safety designs that treat human movements as analogous to the motion of physical objects will fail to model the essential characteristics of human crowds as interactive communication systems, and hence that broader participation in crowd safety decisions will avoid the serious errors that would otherwise arise.

Apart from its claimed effects in improving the information base of risk management, the case for broader participation is also sometimes put in terms of increasing the accountability of the technical decision-makers (Beder 1991), or on moral or “spillover” grounds. OECD guidelines on the management of chemical plants suggest that risk management decisions should explicitly consider suppliers, clients, customers and local

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