Risico's in bedrijf: Omgaan met gezondheidsrisico's op de werkvloer

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal


The Dutch population is concerned about the risks of industrial production. The responsibility for the management of these risks is mainly in the hands of the industrial personnel itself, that is, in the hands of the people who create them. However, little is known about the way they handle these risks in practise. The aim of this study is to find out how industrial personnel handle a specific production risk in daily practise, namely, health risks of employees on the shop floor. This study poses seven specific questions. The first is related to formal policy; the others deal with the practical implementation of the policy. The seven questions are answered using both quantitative and qualitative data collected in two Dutch factories. The analyses are restricted to workers and managers, because in both factories riskmanagement is formally their responsibility. The first question adresses the formal policy of the two factories in terms of health riskmanagement. The policy is aimed at the prevention of both general and more profession-specific health risks. The main elements of the safety policy are safety instructions, environmental and safety audits, (safety) regulations, accident reports and the provision of personal protection measures and special equipment. Both the making and the implementation of the policy are formally the shared responsibility of workers and managers. The second question deals with the efforts made by workers and managers to make others more (or less) aware of health risks. Workers and managers attempt to make others take health risks more seriously than they already do. This is the trend for at least the last fifteen years. The growing attention to health and safety among the industrial personnel is in accordance with the growing concern about technological risks among the Dutch population. The third question is to what degree do workers and managers differ in their efforts to make others more (or less) aware of health risks; the fourth question asks how this difference can be interpreted. Although workers are at the greatest risk, the management makes the most effort to make others more aware of health and safety issues. To some extent, this difference can be explained by the fact that management gives even higher priority to riskmanagement than workers. It can also be explained by the fact that, under normal production circumstances, management sticks more to safety regulations than workers (this difference does not hold for production interruptions). First, under normal production circumstances workers perceive fewer unacceptable risks as a result of deviating from safety regulations than managers. Second, their balance of interests generally favours abiding to the safety regulations, while the workers is not. The findings with respect to the efforts workers and managers make to reduce risks undermine three points of view found in the literature. According to Burawoy, working conditions are less important in comparison with the role both workers and management assign to class struggle and in line with this, to the distribution of economic benefits. In my analysis it is not only shown that both categories of personnel assign higher priority to safe and healthy production than to economic interests, but also that the seriousness with which they have tried to achieve the first goal has grown steadily over the last fifteen years. The second approach - on which, for example, the Dutch Health and Safety Act is grounded - is that employers and employees have a natural common interest in reducing health risks. This contradicts the finding that the implementation of safety regulations is structurally accompanied by conflicts. The third perspective is that managers, by definition, try to make a profit at the cost of the health of the workers. Of the three standpoints, this last one is most strongly contradicted by the findings. Managers not only give higher priority to riskmanagement than workers do, they also put more effort into it. The fifth question concerns the explanation of the style of influence both workers and managers (i.e., employees) use to make others more aware of health risks. It is demonstrated that the willingness of employees to use different styles of influence depends on the amount of trust they have in the employee they are trying to influence. Employees are inclined to use coercion if they have no faith in the person they try to influence - i.e., if they think that person is not willing to cooperate. If they think their target is somewhat trustworthy - i.e., that this person is willing but unable to do what is expected of him - then they are inclined to explain. Employees who have complete confidence in their target - i.e., who think their target is both willing and capable of taking a certain health risk more seriously - are inclined to draw attention to the health risk in question or to discuss it. Theoretically, the answer to question five is important in relation to Etzioni's theory of compliance. He distinguishes the estimation of the willingness to do what is asked as the only factor for determining how eager someone is to use the different styles of influence. In my analysis, it is demonstrated that the estimation of the capability also determines the willingness to use different styles of influence. Question six deals with the explanation of the success (or failure) of the attempts undertaken by employees to make others more aware of health risks. A preliminary step in answering this question shows that the perspective of the actor doing the influencing and the perspective of his target tend to overlap. In other words, the amount of trust in the styles of influence correlates positively with the amount of trust a target has in himself. The chances that an employee does what he is asked are greater when the perspectives of the actor and his target are shared than when they are not. When applied to the different styles of influence, coercion is more likely to be effective, the less willing an employee is to do what he is asked; explaining is more likely to be effective, the more willing and the less capable he thinks he is of doing it, and discussion has a higher chance of success the more someone thinks he is both willing and able to do what he is asked. Both findings are in accordance with the adapted versions of Etzioni's congruency and effectiveness hypotheses. They are also both relevant for policy. The chances that the different styles of influences will produce the desired result depends on the willingness and capability of employees to do what they are asked for. The fact that both their willingness and ability to show more concern for health risks differ greatly, means that the effectiveness of the influence style depends on the situation. In other words, none of the three styles is, by definition, more effective than the others. The last question adresses the degree to which blaming obstructs the ability to learn from (near) accidents. The answer is found in three distortions present in accident reporting. First, the less reporters cooperate with the person they blame for the (near) accident, the harsher their judgement. This corresponds with Black's horizontal relational distance hypotheses. Second, employees tend to more harshly criticize those who occupy another power position than those in the same hierarchical position. This finding only partly corresponds with Black's vertical relational distance hypotheses. Third, the lower the chance that the person blamed will get into trouble because of the judgement (i.e., the event reported has not caused an accident), the harsher the judgement of the reporting employee. From these three findings it can be concluded that employees try to avoid conflicts with colleges whom they hold responsible for deviations from the planned production process. This means that the ability to learn from (near) accidents is hindered because employees do not want to disturb the work climate. The findings not only answer the seven research questions, but they are also relevant for three common organisational theories concerning riskmanagement not used here: the Normal Accident Theory, the Failure of Foresight model, and the High-Reliability Theory. Perrow demonstrates, in his Normal Accident Theory, that the social and political context influence the way business sectors handle technological risks. This study shows that social factors within enterprises are also important in handling technological risks. In the other two approaches, events which have already taken place are reconstructed. Researchers grounded in the Failure of Foresight model know that a disaster has happened. This leads them to the conclusion that those involved should have known the disastrous consequences of their behaviour. Researches who support the High-Reliability Theory know that a certain sector is free of accidents. They tend to ignore things the people involved have overlooked, either deliberately or not. This thesis explores the field of riskmanagement. Risks imply uncertainty about the consequences of actions. This means that the researcher cannot know the consequences of these actions any more than his research subjects. Because this approach was chosen, it could be shown that employees have to weigh competing interests on a daily basis, even though they are not sure about the consequences of their actions.
Original languageDutch
Awarding Institution
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Berting, Supervisor
Award date17 Dec 1999
Place of PublicationRotterdam
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 1999

Bibliographical note

ISBN 90 73235 97 9

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