- Worker Safety Under Siege: Labor, Capital, and the Politics of Workplace Safety in a Deregulated World
This collection of 11 essays offers a sobering view of the worldwide decline of worker protection in the new global economy. The premise of Worker Safety Under Siege is that workers' safety nets have been seriously eroded by the ascendance of "neoliberal" policies which promote "the primacy of the market, the reduction in public expenditures for social services, the reduction of government regulation, and the privatization of state-owned enterprises."
The compilation is a mixed bag, ranging from several highly readable essays with fresh perspectives to some rather dense tracts and rehashes of well-worn topics. Among the highlights are the first two contributions. Jordan Barab, a highly respected advocate for worker protection in the U.S. and author of the important blog, Confined Space (spewingforth.blogspot.com), makes an eloquent case for more outrage by the media and the public over the deaths of workers. "The equivalent of a Boeing 747 full of workers is killed on the job in the United States every few weeks. Yet, because most are killed one or two at a time, no one notices." He systematically lays out some of the reasons for this strange lack of concern for such significant loss of life. A common view is that workplace accidents are either unavoidable or the fault of careless workers. Barab notes the tragic reality that nearly all workplace injuries are actually preventable. The article is thoroughly accessible and an important read for anyone is a position to raise awareness about workplace carnage and its high costs, both human and economic.
In the second essay Rory O'Neil, editor of the acclaimed British magazine, Hazards (www.hazards.org), explores the issue of "how dangerous employers stay safe from prosecution". He highlights worldwide union demands for greater accountability for workplace deaths, and points out that employers who are responsible for worker deaths rarely face more than a fine, even when negligence is involved. "But where these crimes would usually result in a prison sentence when committed outside the workplace, behind the factory doors employers can almost always kill with impunity." He tracks the movement to [End Page 79] establish and enforce corporate criminal liability laws, with examples from England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
This international perspective is one of the book's strengths. One contribution shares a case study from Brazil looking at a 2001 series of explosions. The explosions sank an oil-drilling platform, killed 11 workers, and created a public debate about the dangerous effects of Brazil's adoption of neoliberal policies at that time. Another essay takes an historical look at policies in Ontario, Canada, detailing the erosion of hard-won regulations that mandated worker participation in workplace safety programs, and showing the rise of employer self-regulation schemes in their stead.
Despite the collection's unevenness, these highlights make the book well worth the investment.