Safety Politics and Risk Perceptions in Malaysian Industry

Arne Wangel

    Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis


    Abstract The book deals with the analysis of work hazards and safety in industrial enterprises in Peninsular Malaysia, Southeast Asia. It traces the development of this theme of conflict within the context constituted by state, labour market and labour-management relations in Malaysia. The book focuses on metalworkers'immediate experiences about work hazards. Thus, the analysis is based upon an approach inspired a phenomenological sociology of knowledge, by which theoretical contributions from Evans, Rueschemeyer and Skocpol about the structuring of the social actors= resources performed by the state from Burawoy, Beronius, and Adesina about production politics and social relations in the labour process provides an integrated perspective on individual risk perceptions, safety practices in enterprises, and government regulation. The empirical data were collected during the period 1989-92 by means of participant observation, qualitative interviews and company case studies. The study of the theme of conflict involves three main questions: What is the significance of foreign models for governmental regulation and managerial strategies in terms of shaping conflicts about work hazards and safety, when compared with the influence of local conditions? What kind of process develops, as local theory about work hazards are formed among workers. And, which are the opportunities for changing working environment institutions in Malaysia? The first part of the book discusses traditions and theories within working environment research. The origin of legally defined standards, the pattern of interests among the key social actors, the views of professionals on causes of work hazards and their control, as well as the problem of applying a concept of working environment related to wage labour in a study on working life in developing countries, are covered among other things. The second part discusses the relations between state and civil society in Malaysia, labour market policies and state regulation of work hazards. The description of a serious accident at work illustrates the nature of the monitoring conducted by the authorities as well as the strategies to counter threats to their legitimacy. The third part of the book deepens the analysis of the enterprise level. Workers' statements about their experience of work hazards are the point of departure for investigating the issue of work hazards within the field of tension between managerial control and workers= resistance. Inarticulate knowledge about physical and psychic effects are confronted by 'wisdom', which is expressed as part of the factory discipline. The book shows how the knowledge systems of various actors - subjective meanings, tacit knowledge, technical/medical information, and legal definitions - clash within the pattern of the social relations of the factory. The safety practices of the individual company are discussed on the basis of a series of case descriptions. Finally, an overview of social actors= access to knowledge resources identifies barriers and opportunities for change. The conclusion gives emphasis to the contrast between workers= immediate experiences and the codification of knowledge about work injuries for the purpose of economic compensation. The book shows that the nature of knowledge formation on the working environment and its ascribed legitimacy is associated with particular forms of social practice. Thus, the common paradigm about objective knowledge as a source to a - in last analysis - complete control of work hazards is unsound. Instead, the limitations of the knowledge formation and the activities, which are exercised by referring to such rationality, have to be carefully examined. 'Safety Politics and Risk Perceptions in Malaysian Industry' identifies analytical perspectives, which in detail are able to trace conflicts about the working environment in the industries of developing countries. The book provides a thorough account of the conditions of industrial labour in one of Southeast Asia=s growth economies. It is shown how this field develops at enterprise level in working situations characterized by serious hazards, uneven power resources and workers= resignation. At the same time, the significance of the particular political regime and path of industrialization is investigated. The book rejects the simplified view of cross-cultural ergonomics concerning the relationship between working environment techniques and society and questions the applicability of concepts drawn from the origins of working environment regulation in Western Europe.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationLund
    PublisherDepartment of Sociology, Lund University
    Number of pages404
    Publication statusPublished - 1997

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