Book Review: Hazard or Hardship: Crafting Global Norms on the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

80140100093600LHazard or Hardship: Crafting Global Norms on the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work. By Jeffrey Hilgert . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press/ILR Press, 2013. 224 pp. ISBN 978-0-8014-5189-8, $45 (Cloth).

Read the review by Guy Mundlak of Tel Aviv University from the January 2015 issue of ILR Review.

“Workplace health and safety has now become an area of labor and employment relations that is ‘extensively regulated’ with ‘intense legislative activity worldwide’ in recent years” (p. 159). This apt observation by Jeffrey Hilgert can also account for the ILR_72ppiRGB_powerpointmarginalization of health and safety issues from the agenda of many labor scholars. Health and safety is often associated with technical standards on matters such as safety procedures on cranes or maximum exposure levels to toxic substances. Many scholars acknowledge that health and safety is important to human life, reaching into the heart of the labor rights–human rights intersection. Scholars of international labor law also pointed at the omission of health and safety from the roster of core labor standards in the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Few, however, are willing to plunge into the challenge to unveil the human rights dimension of what may seem a highly technical field.

In Hazard or Hardship, Hilgert provides a fascinating account of the missing link. This exploration of the link does not commence with a general theory of regulation or human rights, but instead with a very focused and seemingly minute corner of the health and safety field—the right to refuse unsafe work. The author begins the book with details, with stories, with human lives, and workers’ attempts to assert their rights; some were successful, many were not. Why focus on the right to refuse when so many other issues are at stake in the field, from standard setting, to enforcement, compensation, and rehabilitation? The reader is quickly initiated, learning that the right to refuse is a door through which many dilemmas are admitted and woven together in nonconcentric circles. The plot therefore involves multiple themes, ranging from the process of juridification and the substitution of collective bargaining with statutory rights, to the new policy-based regulatory trend in which fixed mandatory standards are replaced by processes in the workplace. The story flows from the individuals’ fight for health and safety to national legislation and adjudication, and to international standards. On the way, the author draws on fundamental concepts that are necessary for understanding governance of work—rights, power, commodification, and citizenship. This book is not for the technicians of health and safety, but rather for those who want to rethink the broader themes of labor governance, international labor law, and human rights.

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This entry was posted in Book Review, Corporate Governance, Employee Satisfaction, Employees, employers, Health Care, Human Resource Management, Jobs, Labor, Labor Supply, Politics, Social Impact, Social Issues, Work environment and tagged , , by Cynthia Nalevanko, Senior Editor, SAGE Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cynthia Nalevanko, Senior Editor, SAGE Publishing

Founded in 1965, SAGE is the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. Known for our commitment to quality and innovation, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students across a broad range of subject areas. With over 1500 employees globally from principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC, and Melburne, our publishing program includes more than 1000 journals and over 900 books, reference works and databases a year in business, humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Believing passionately that engaged scholarship lies at the heart of any healthy society and that education is intrinsically valuable, SAGE aims to be the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. This means playing a creative role in society by disseminating teaching and research on a global scale, the cornerstones of which are good, long-term relationships, a focus on our markets, and an ability to combine quality and innovation. Leading authors, editors and societies should feel that SAGE is their natural home: we believe in meeting the range of their needs, and in publishing the best of their work. We are a growing company, and our financial success comes from thinking creatively about our markets and actively responding to the needs of our customers.

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