Hard Work in Soft Regulation: A Discussion of the Social Mechanisms in OHS Management Standards and Possible Dilemmas in the Regulation of Psychosocial Work Environment

  • Pernille Hohnen Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University
  • Peter Hasle Aalborg University
  • Anne Helbo Jespersen Bureau Veritas Denmark, and Center for Industrial Production, Aalborg University
  • Christian Uhrenholdt Madsen Center for Industrial Production, København
Keywords: Health, working environment & wellbeing, Organization & management

Abstract

Certified occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems have become a global instrument in regulation of the work environment. However, their actual impact on OHS—in particular on softer psychosocial issues in the work environment—has been questioned. The most important standard of OHS management is OHSAS 18001, which has recently been supplemented with a British publically available guideline (PAS 1010) focusing specifically on psychosocial risk management. On the basis of the international literature on management standards, the present paper analyses OHSAS 18001 and PAS 1010 in order to understand the mechanism by which they work. The paper takes a social constructionist approach conceptualizing standards and their expected mechanisms as socially constructed—based on a particular kind of knowledge and logic—although they are presented as objective. Such a constructionist approach also emphasizes how standards transform specific work environment problems into generic procedures that can be audited. In the case of OHS standards, both the work environment in general and the psychosocial risks in particular are transformed into simple monocausal auditable relations whereby the complexity of psychosocial work environment issues seems to disappear. The new PAS 1010 guideline, which is particularly focusing on regulation of the psychosocial work environment, only partly succeeds in solving these shortcomings of OHSAS 18001.

Author Biographies

Pernille Hohnen, Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University

Associate Professor. email: hohnen@cgs.aau.dk

Peter Hasle, Aalborg University

Professor with Specific Responsibilities, Center for Industrial Production, København

Anne Helbo Jespersen, Bureau Veritas Denmark, and Center for Industrial Production, Aalborg University

Industrial PhD student

Christian Uhrenholdt Madsen, Center for Industrial Production, København

MSc Scientific Assistant

Published
2014-09-01
How to Cite
Hohnen, P., Hasle, P., Jespersen, A., & Madsen, C. (2014). Hard Work in Soft Regulation: A Discussion of the Social Mechanisms in OHS Management Standards and Possible Dilemmas in the Regulation of Psychosocial Work Environment. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 4(3), 13-30. https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v4i3.4177