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K Frick, P L Jensen, M Quinlan, et al. ($105) 2000. Amsterdam: Pergamon, ISBN 0080434134
This book provides a mine of information on the development of formalised health and safety management systems across the developed world. Such systems provide a comprehensive framework for policy development, risk assessment, risk management, and evaluation of effectiveness for an organisation. The text includes historical insights into their genesis as well as geographical perspectives on the ways in which such systems align themselves with the sociopolitical climates of each country. The quality of this analysis is high and, on the topics with which the reviewer is familiar, perceptive. Two areas of weakness in what is otherwise a deep and thoughtful book are the ways in which systems are tailored to risks and the boundaries of a health and safety system.
The focus throughout is on the concepts and intricacies of management systems. The nature of the risks which justify their introduction and the tools for the evaluation of their effectiveness are not covered in any detail. Hence it may not satisfy readers solely interested in the study of specific risks or the evaluation of the effectiveness of particular interventions. There are few detailed examples or case studies. In particular there is little or no consideration of the distinguishing features of risks to health and to safety.
Any managerial topic has boundaries and the way in which these are handled can make a major contribution to the quality of management. There is little exploration of the boundaries between health and safety systems and approaches to environmental control, to employee health and performance at work or to product quality assurance. All these can be major influences on health and safety arrangements and they can also often help to justify a systematic approach to its management.
The chapters take the form of largely free standing essays around a central theme and several are particularly useful analyses. Two cover the development and implementation of the European Union “framework directive” 89/391. They provide valuable insights into the way in which system concepts are reviewed, set into a legal framework and then put into practice in various countries with differing social agendas and legal systems.
The effects of “precarious employment”, in a fractured and casual labour market are masterfully discussed. In doing so the time warp existing between the current world of work and many regulatory and social partner approaches to health and safety is clearly exposed. On a related topic the practical difficulties of applying systematic approaches to health and safety in small enterprises are well described in terms of challenges, although their acceptability and benefits are not compared with those of simple prescriptive methods backed by effective enforcement.
The benefits of placing expertise in multidisciplinary health services are reviewed. However, the specific contributions of experts in technical and human sciences to the various stages of the management process is not analysed in detail nor are the options of in house, contract, or ad hoc expert support assessed.
As a general textbook or source of reference the book has limitations, one of which is rather limited indexing by subject. As a place for finding valuable and refreshing insights into the way in which a major new strand in prevention of harm from work has evolved it has little competition and will stand as a valuable record for the future. The book is not comprehensive, but as its title indicates, it is a source of valuable perspectives on international practice and its determinants.