The final issue in the risk management debate to be explored in this book concerns whether risk is better coped with by changing physical structures or changing the behaviour of individuals or organizations. Where should the emphasis be laid between the specification of physical products or structures on the one hand and the specification of institutional processes on the other? The difference of emphasis is, in part, related to the debate about the appropriate degree of “anticipationism” in risk management which was discussed in Chapter 2. Like the institutional design issue (see Ch. 5), this dimension of risk management is not characterized by sharp and explicit debate. But there is a spectrum of possible positions which vary according to the emphasis placed on the specification of outcomes (in the sense of laying down physical standards) as against the specification of decision processes. In the traditional regulatory paradigm of natural science, risk management is conceived of as essentially about the design of products or physical structures that are safe within a specified set of functions, or at least “safe enough” within cost-benefit constraints. The emphasis is on incorporating the expertise of natural science, medicine or engineering into authoritative research-grounded standards and specifications (as with the specification of rules about maximum daily intakes of certain food additives or chemical residues in food or pharmaceutical products, or permitted levels of exposure to radiation for workers in radiology departments). Such an approach is deeply embedded in much of the institutional structure of risk regulation and its surrounding decision advice procedures.
In practice, such standards often rely heavily on socially negotiated notions of “feasibility”, “practicality” and “reasonableness”; for example, in the idea that particular hazards or contaminants should be rendered “as low as is reasonably possible” (ALARP) or “as low as is reasonably