Safety Politics and Risk Perceptions in Malaysian Industry

University dissertation from Department of Sociology, Lund University

Abstract: The thesis concerns risk and safety in manufacturing companies in a developing country. Risk and safety is viewed as integral to the social relations between management and labour. The Malaysian case presents a historical conjuncture of this conflict theme, which is very different from that of its Western genesis. On this basis, the primary objective of the thesis is defined as an effort to escape the established codification of work hazards and to trace how perceptions of risk at work are formed and regulations develop. The thesis brings together a range of theoretical contributions aimed at grasping individual experience, the formation of common sense knowledge, subjectivity in the labour process, state policies, factory regimes, and institutional developments. The theories are discussed and applied in ways that seek to join them together as parts of a phenomenological sociology of knowledge. The primary data originate from extensive field studies 1989-92, which included qualitative interviewing, direct observation and company cases. The 'deconstruction' of legal notions about work injury to be compensated with monetary benefits, is achieved through, i.a. a focus on workers' subjectivity in the labour process. The apathy so often observed is shown to be the outcome of a process by which 'local theory' is defined through successive managerial rejections of workers' experiences of discomfort and fear. The thesis further concludes that production politics on the factory floor is strongly influenced by the structuring provided by government regulation of fields of conflict and the resources available to the two parties. In brief, a despotic labour regime at the national level dominates any effort at safety activity, whether it is initiated by workers or represents models of safety management. Finally, a critique of current safety paradigms calls for a conception of risk at work, which does not focus the building of power and knowledge resources on injury compensation, but raises the perspective of workers themselves administrating their working environment.

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