The Multinational Monitor

DECEMBER 1984 / JANUARY 1985 - VOLUME 5. NO 12 / VOLUME 6, NO. 1

W A R   G A M E S

To Punish or Persuade: Enforcement of Coal Mine Safety
by John Braithwaite
State University of New York Press
$12.98 paper, $34.50 Cloth Reviewed by Daniel Elias

This latest book from the prolific pen of John Braithwaite, a renowned authority on corporate crime, concerns a matter close to his heart. Raised in Ipswich, a coal town in Queensland, Australia, where 17 miners were entombed during the Box Flat disaster of 1972 , the author "expected one day to write an angry book about death in the mines." Though, as Braithwaite says in his introduction, the final product has taken a more dispassionate and academic form than the original conception, "TO PUNISH OR TO PERSUADE" is a powerful work, 1 83 pages of remorseless logic which strike at the core of the mining safety issue.

The book's strength lies in its structure, comprised of two parts, juxtaposing case studies with innovative interpretation. First, a dissection of 39 mine disasters which have taken place since 1960 in Britain, the U.S. and Australia, together with a discussion of the five U.S. companies that have compiled the best mine safety records. On the basis of this core of studies Braithwaite in the last four chapters explores the relative merits of punishment and persuasion as methods of improving operator behavior.

This century 160,000 miners have died in accidents in Britain and the U.S. Occupational diseases particularly black lung, have been still more devastating, with death rates ranging from 23% to 120% higher than the national average. In recent decades there has been an encouraging drop in the death toll from accidents. In the U.S. the figures fell from 3,241 in 1907 to 70 in 1983. This same reduction is apparent in Britain, yet the two nations follow contrasting policies.

Since nationalization of the mining industry, Britain has decreased the use of punitive sanctions while the U.S. has used such penalties more frequently. This contrast leads Braithwaite to consider factors independent of the type of sanctions used, most notably the power and safety consciousness of miner's unions. Union men are less likely to be killed. In 1981 70% of the mining related deaths in the U.S. occurred in mines that were not unionized.

The second factor is one of more ironical interest: the tendency of large corporations to take over small mining facilities has improved safety standards. Braithwaite says that this is not because "all giants are paragons of virtue" but rather because concentration has resulted in an equalization of standards. This has been paralleled in effect in Britain with the uniformity imposed by the National Coal Board after nationalization.

Braithwaite's study of the 39 disasters finds that after discounting those caused by "unstopable forces of nature" violations of regulations were the cause of death in 25 of the 39 accidents.

The lamentable aspect lies in the number of carbon copy disasters that could have been prevented by learning the lessons of the past. For instance, the 1966 Aberfan tip slide in South Wales where 144 people died - 116 of them 7 to 10 year old children - occurred in an area where such slides were common. "Coal mine disasters," Braithwaite notes, "are not capricious acts of nature about which we can do little, but patterned, predictable events which are therefore eminently preventable."

Braithwaite's examination of the five mine safety leaders highlights the importance of a corporate approach which puts priority on safety , makes inspectors answerable to people other than company managers, employs adequate training and planning procedures and establishes clear lines of accountability.

In the second half of his book Braithwaite considers the cases for punishment and persuasion and develops a model for delineating the optimal mix. He demonstrates that "both punishment and persuasion probably work," and should not be expected to operate independently of each other - persuasion works because the threat of discretionary punishment is there to support it. He argues that punishment can be particularly effective with corporate offenders who have much to lose in social status, employment and money. Persuasion, however, has the advantage of maximizing compliance rather than producing two antagonistic poles.

Braithwaite argues that no country should be limited to the use of either strategy in isolation. The task is to extract the most effective mix. Braithwaite does this by creating a "a pyramid of escalation".

Voluntary self--regulation should be tried first, he contends, because federal bureaucracy does not have unlimited resources and the company has a greater capacity for internal punishment than could he inflicted by government regulation. From there he suggests moving to enforced self-regulation - "privately written, publicly ratified rules having the force of law." The final two stages, command regulation with discretion and command regulation without discretion, escalate to the maximum amount of control possible while still retaining a degree of flexibility.

Perhaps Braithwaite's most important contribution is in exposing the false dichotomy between saving lives and expanding production. Production figures indicate that tougher safety standards are associated with higher output and fewer man hours of work lost. The most productive mines are shown to have the lowest accident rates.

Recognizing nonetheless that certain kinds of safety regulations can in fact restrict production, Braithwaite puts forward the rule of thumb that "any rule or enforcement of a rule should be stopped if the number of lives and injuries it saves is less than the increase in death and injury caused by reduced productivity arising from the regulation." The effect of such a process would be to decide "on the basis of safety" to eliminate a number of regulations that hinder productivity.

Three leading themes emerge from Braithwaite's study. First, the need for a regulatory strategy based on a mix of punishment and persuasion. Second, that "compliance is most likely when regulatory response can be escalated." And finally, that "a regulatory strategy cannot be maximally effective in saving lives if it does not consider its impact on productivity."

There are many reasons for Braithwaite's book to be not only read, but studied by trade unionists, the mining industry and legislators alike, not in the least its balanced and logically innovative approach. The " eminently preventable" deaths of the 114 school children in Aberfan in 1966 are surely reason enough.

Daniel Elias, a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, is an intern at the Multinational Monitor.

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