In this chapter we focus on the range of political, economic and social forces that influence policymakers such as the pressures created by globalisation, deregulation and privatisation. In a number of industrialised countries, political ideologies favour right-wing neo-liberal economic theory, affecting the form and tone of policies, such as those governing the employment relationship. The knock-on effect on OHS is apparent in the case of labour market restructuring, which has been intimately connected to increasing job insecurity, and the related propensity to suffer work-related illnesses. This range of macro-level factors provide the backdrop to OHS and to a range of HRM policies and practices, making an understanding of their interaction with HRM and OHS essential.
In the last chapter, our review of HRM cast doubt upon any presumption that ‘good’ OHS practice is assured by an HRM approach to people management. It was proposed that HRM’s basic congruence with prevailing economic theory means that it is driven by individualism and business (profit) rationalisations, and based on this occupational health and safety interventions may be entirely conditional on business-led decisions. At first sight, this assumption does not necessarily lead to negative consequences for OHS. It could be argued that business rationality would base itself on the relative costs of ‘good’ OHS practice and OHS failures. For example, good practice may protect the organisation from increased insurance premiums, a tarnished reputation, civil-damage claims, fines and the costs associated with lower productivity, employee absence and turnover - all of course based on the assumption that the relative costs of ‘good’ OHS and related interventions outweigh the costs or losses if these were withheld. Such logic is embodied in a ‘self-interest model’ - mutated from economic theory - which holds that employers willingly and consciously follow safe practices, and implement and adhere to preventative strategies in response to market pressures, the existence of a constraining legal framework as well as actively avoiding sanctions and costs associated with OHS failures (Viscusi 1979; Dorman 1988, 1996; Moore 1991).
Critics might argue that markets do nothing to protect workers from unsafe working conditions and instead act to exacerbate existing inequalities