Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 1 2009, page 49-66.
English resume

Health and Safety matters are too important for management to leave it up to the joint safety and health committee

Johnny Dyreborg

The work environment has become an important focus point for enterprises and organisations in their display of societal responsibility. This shift in strategic focus is sometimes presented as a new rewarding business strategy for enterprises that want to increase safety beyond the prescriptions of the law. This view has been advanced in parts of the public and scientific discussions about corporate social responsibility (CSR). But the question is whether enterprises have become intrinsically more social now than they have been earlier or whether it could be explained by changes in the business- society relationship regarding responsibility for the work environment?
The aim of the article is to investigate changes in the institutional logics informing the governance of the societal responsibility for work safety and the consequences for the management of work safety on large construction projects. The article discusses whether corporate social responsibility can be seen as a supplement or a rival to the extant governance of work safety.

Firstly, the development in the institutional logics informing safety governance during the period 1954 to 2005 was traced. Secondly, case studies of four very large construction projects that took place during the period 1988 to 2005 were carried out in order to identify changes in safety management: the construction of the Great Belt connecting east and west Denmark, the Øresund fi xed link between Denmark and Sweden, construction of the Copenhagen Metro and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s new Multimedia house in Orestad.

The results demonstrate important changes in the business-society relationship concerning responsibility for the working environment, which also affected the internal relationships of safety management on
large construction projects. The article argues that these changes is conveyed through the emergence of new institutionalised relations between enterprises and society representing a shift from a regulative perspective, to a democratic perspective with worker involvement, and fi nally a stakeholder perspective involving corporate social responsibility in the governance of work safety.
For the external relationships, the changes implies that the environment increasingly attributes social responsibility to the enterprises which in turn means that enterprises must give emphasis to these expectations in forms of different types of benchmarking measures. This has resulted in managements’ increased awareness of work environment issues. The introduction of different types of bench-marking measures underlines the strategic importance of the work environment. Unfortunately these measures also have adverse effects, as they support an ad-hoc prone compensatory approach with focus on lost-time-injury rates, thus weakening a long-term prevention strategy with focus on the severe accidents, which are especially prevalent in the building industry.

The strategic signifi cance of work safety for the construction enterprises implied that the driving force for work safety was situated between the management and the stakeholders in the environment. This entailed that workers representing the internal stakeholders, experienced that they were left out from central issues related to safety, which prompted a safety representative to propose that “safety matters have become too important for management to leave it up to the joint safety and health committee”. Seen in this perspective corporate social responsibility is a rival perspective, and not just supplementary to the existing regulation of work safety. Further research on the wider implication of this insight for the reduction of the risk to construction workers is encouraged.

Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv

(Journal for Working Life)




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in Danish frontpage Nyt om arbejdsliv
editor Jørgen Burchardt