Improving Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Regulations: An Overarching Review, European Risk Observatory Literature Review

David Walters, Richard Johnstone, Elizabeth Bluff, Hans Jørgen Limborg, Ulrik Gensby

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    This is the second volume of the project report produced in fulfilment of European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) service contract EU-OSHA/2019/OP/D/SE/0092, namely a contract to provide an overarching review on improving the extent and quality of compliance with occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. As the final report (the first volume) describes in detail, the aim of the project was to provide a detailed and in-depth review of the current knowledge on the five areas in which external institutional support for securing compliance and better practice can be grouped. As well as providing an up-to-date review of the current knowledge in these fields, the objective was to inform EU-OSHA’s deliberations on commissioning and developing a range of further empirical research as part of its new research programme for 2020-2024. This research could help to fill knowledge gaps and find ways to better secure compliance and improve OSH practice in the EU Member States in the future. In the final report, to which this literature review is a companion volume, the authors went to some lengths to explain the background, key concepts and methods employed to review the literature and to seek the views of key informants. Together, these aspects of the work undertaken have led to the five chapters of the literature review presented here. The final report also introduced the robust analytical framework used as a context within which to consider both the findings of this literature review and the opinions of key informants, to enable a critical, consistent and comparative analysis of current knowledge to emerge. This analytical framework is set out in the first chapter of this literature review. This volume of the project report presents the detailed literature review that informed the analysis and recommendations of the final report (see the final report for further details of the search and analytical methods employed in the review). In this short introduction to the literature review, we outline its structure and summarise the connections we have observed between the different areas of knowledge covered. These cross-cutting connections were among the key findings identified in the final report and their implications are discussed at some length there. The analytical framework for the literature review includes an examination of the broader determinants of the conditions that supported securing compliance and better OSH practice in different EU Member States. These determinants include the different business, political, regulatory and industrial relations contexts, and the ongoing changes of these contexts. Indeed, it was the sense of the importance of these elements, in combination with cross-cutting connections between them, that most powerfully influenced the recommendations for further research (see Part 3 of the final report). Readers of the literature review are therefore urged to bear these overarching conclusions in mind. For the sake of clarity, the substantial detail presented in this literature review has driven us to structure it in a sequence of chapters, each one ostensibly addressing a different area of support for compliance and better practice. However, this should not be allowed to obscure the connections between these areas, nor should it be understood to imply that the five areas in which we have organised the literature review are the sole influences on securing compliance. As we have tried to emphasise in the final report, an understanding of the synergies between the cross-cutting elements is the most important factor in appreciating the strengths of each of the five areas, as well as the constraints on their effects. It is often the actions created by boundary-spanning agents and processes that are the most effective in bringing these elements together to secure the best practices that they are intended to support. Such boundary-spanning agents include actors in OSH such as trade unions, consumer groups, lawyers, regulatory inspectors, OSH professionals, enlightened corporate leaders, insurance bodies, standards associations and certification bodies, and so on. They sometimes also include business support services such as financial institutions, accountants, lawyers and OSH consultants, along with public interest groups such as minorities organisations, religious groups, non-governmental organisations (such as those focusing on poverty/social welfare, public health and the environment) and other factions of civil society whose interests reflect those of workers or their employers. The regulatory processes — whether public or private — with which these agents are engaged are also considered; these determine the nature, transferability and sustainability of the support for OSH and provide the means for the boundary-spanning actions of such actors across the five areas into which we have organised the substance of the literature review. These five areas are: Improving compliance with occupational safety and health regulations: an overarching review – Literature review European Agency for Safety and Health at Work —- EU-OSHA 9 1. social norms, social reporting and corporate social responsibility; 2. economic incentives and the business case for improving OSH arrangements; 3. the role of relations in supply chains in leveraging such improvements; 4. external prevention services for OSH in EU Member States; 5. novel approaches by OSH regulators. In the following literature review, there is one chapter devoted to each of these five areas. However, before presenting these, and following the rationale outlined above, we begin with a chapter that explains and develops our analytical approach, which draws on the regulatory studies literature. As the operation of each of the five areas of external institutional support is likely to be affected by the national situation and by the changes that take place within it, it is important to take account of these aspects too. Therefore, the second chapter of this review examines the changing contexts in which institutional support for improving OSH in the EU Member States is situated and includes a discussion of the nature of the OSH outcomes expected through such support. Once again, it is not the purpose of this brief introduction to detail the rationale behind these two chapters; for such detail, see the introduction to the final report. In short, therefore, each chapter of the following literature review can be read as a self-contained account of the current knowledge and of the gaps in this knowledge in the area it covers. In this respect, the chapters are intended to provide detailed support for the more discursive narrative of the final report, which makes numerous references to the content of this review. Following the same rationale, we have not attempted to provide a concluding chapter, in which the narrative and the overarching findings are discussed, in the present volume, as this is already provided in the final report. Instead, we have limited the conclusions of this volume to a brief reprise of the key pointers for future policies that emerge from each chapter. Following this, there is a list of all of the references cited in this literature review. Finally, a comment is in order about our inclusion of sources addressing the consequences of COVID-19 for the support for securing compliance and better OSH practice. As we have discussed at length in the final report, the work undertaken in this research project was commissioned before the pandemic of 2020. Thus, this literature review is primarily a review of literature that predates the pandemic. Moreover, the rationale and the conceptual framework that we adopted to conduct our analysis of the literature were also developed prior to the pandemic. However, as we acknowledge in the final report, the events of 2020 have been on such a scale and of such relevance to health and well-being at work that they are impossible to ignore when writing about OSH at the present time. As it is also very likely that these experiences will have significant implications for the future of securing compliance and better OSH practices and outcomes, it would be a seriously deficient review of knowledge that failed to consider them. We have, therefore, attempted to address this in both the final report and the literature review. However, as the pandemic continues at the time of writing, the sources of analysis of these implications in the literature are, by definition, both very recent and significantly incomplete. We have therefore referred to them where relevant in the following chapters, as best we can. Nevertheless, it is important that we acknowledge the uncertainty and incompleteness of much of this analysis, and the need for considerable further monitoring of both the literature and the implications for future external institutional support for securing compliance with OSH standards in EU Member States in a post-pandemic future. It is also important that the implications of the pandemic are considered fully in recommendations concerning future policy and empirical research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Commissioning bodyEuropean Agency for Safety and Health at Work
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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