The collapse of state-centered communist control in Poland in 1989 created a fundamental challenge to the country’s occupational health and safety system, as the principle on which this system was founded—that the state represents workers’ interests and owns the means for their protection—vanished along with the discredited political regime. As a consequence, policy makers seeking to improve occupational health and safety (OH&S) protection in Poland simultaneously face two daunting challenges. In the first instance the emergent new social order requires that employers, labor unions, workers and regulators and all other participants in the occupational protection system reexamine their roles, responsibilities and mutual relationships. At the same time there is an urgent need to address the failures and inadequacies of past policies and industrial practices, including such problems as institutionalized incentives for poor enforcement, a generally weak safety culture and a multitude of often unimplementable exposure standards.
These challenges are to be addressed under the difficult circumstances of dramatic socioeconomic change and in the face of multiple potentially competing objectives, such as reducing unemployment while also improving worker health and safety. Thus regulators are under pressure to improve working conditions while simultaneously considering the socioeconomic impacts of regulation on firms and communities. Labor unions, which are no longer the agents of the state, must reinvent themselves as independent advocates for good working conditions while trying to preserve the socioeconomic safety net created during real socialism. A rapidly growing private industrial sector is creating a new class of entrepreneurs with widely ranging degrees of experience in, and