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TitleUncertain safety. Allocating responsibilities for safety
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Total Pages179
Table of Contents
                            Uncertain Safety
executive summary
1 introduction
	1.1 concerns about safety
	1.2 problem formulation
	1.3 limitations and structure of this report
2 safety issues: a survey of the domain
	2.1 hazardous substances
	2.2 flood prevention
	2.3 infectious diseases
	2.4 ict and the internet
	2.5 food safety
	2.6 nanotechnology
	2.7 common denominators in safety concerns
3 the classical risk approach and theallocation of responsibilities
	3.1 the classical risk approach
	3.2 risk assessment and risk management
	3.3 responsibility and risks
	3.4 government instruments and administrativeproblems
	3.5 measures taken by companies
	3.6 initiatives of citizens and civil society
	3.7 limited room for reallocating responsibilities
4 the classical risk approach under pressure
	4.1 intrinsic problems of the classical risk approach
	4.2 changing external conditions: new challenges
	4.3 the emergence of a new risk approach
	4.4 foundations of the new risk approach
	4.5 four types of risk problems
	4.6 conclusion: the limits of the social engineeringperspective
5 normative aspects of the new riskapproach
	5.1 politics beyond the classical risk approach
	5.2 the need for a new normative perspective
	5.3 normative foundations of the new risk approach
	5.4 the precautionary principle and the allocation ofresponsibilities
	5.5 precaution requires political organization
6 conclusions and recommendations
	6.1 towards a future-proof safety policy
	6.2 the new risk approach and the precautionaryprinciple as a starting point for policy
	6.3 organizing precaution: the new risk approach
	6.4 legal instruments
	6.5 institutional conditions: the role of politics,science and citizens
	6.6 precaution as constitutional task
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Uncertain Safety

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uncertain safety88

Given the increasing dependence on experts, the growing awareness of uncer-
tainty and the rise of new forms of science and funding, both the knowledge base
and the normative foundations of policymaking have become subject to debate.
These developments require governments to become more aware of the divergent
roles of experts in risk assessment and risk management. The scientific and
normative uncertainties involved in the control of risks can no longer be tackled
by calling on the traditional ideal in which independent experts speak truth to
power. Where consensus on values is absent and uncertainties exist, experts may
be expected to play a new role. Pielke (2007) refers to this role as that of the
‘Honest Broker of Policy Alternatives’. Integrating scientific knowledge – and
insight into its limitations – with the interests and concerns of stakeholders, the
role of the ‘honest broker’ consists in putting forward a range of possible policy

4.2.3 high expectations, media and the perception of citizens

Safety levels have never been as high as in today’s modern societies. Still, public
awareness of unsafety has gone up substantially. There is decreasing acceptance of
risks, if not increasing ‘risk aversion’. In this context, citizens look to the govern-
ment: they expect the government to act and to provide protection against threats
(Van Waarden 2005).

However, citizens do not only have high expectations about the fact that the
government will act; they also have expectations about how political choices will
be made. The legitimacy of the decision-making process is no longer taken for
granted (Hajer 2003; Verhoeven 2004). Increasingly, citizens are critical of choices
underlying policymaking and policy results. They voice concern by protesting, as
well as by formulating alternative plans. One example discussed above is the fight
against emergency overflow areas as a measure to counter high water of large
rivers (cf. section 2.2). Also regarding new technologies, citizens increasingly
protest against decisions made by the government or industry. Not every citizen
is easily won over by the message that government experts have deemed a tech-
nology to be safe. That many experts argue that umts does not cause health
problems does not convince everybody. Citizens have political and legal means to
turn their doubts into action. They may stop the spread of umts technology or at
least delay it. In Sweden, for instance, complaints were lodged against one-third
of the planned umts aerials (Soneryd 2007).

Frequently, the administrative reflex is to downplay the uncertainties that have
been advanced. Government then takes on the obligation to meet the high safety
expectations that are generated. If an incident or disaster nevertheless occurs,
government may expect questions about its responsibility and its dual role of
legislator and inspector. In the fireworks disaster in Enschede, for instance, not

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the classical risk approach under pressure 89

only the factory owner was blamed but also the government, which was held co-
responsible for creating the conditions under which the disaster could occur (Van
den Brink 2007). At the political level it was concluded that the government had
fallen short in its task of monitoring and inspection. In response, regulations in
the entire policy domain of external safety were beefed up and expanded. This
further raises expectations of course. But also after improved measures have been
taken, it remains relevant to ask whether government can fulfil its promise to
guarantee the expected level of safety.

In putting safety issues on the public and political agenda, the media play a major
part. Their role is a mediating one: citizens learn about particular safety problems
in most cases through the media. However, the media pay little or no attention to
considerations underlying actual safety policies. Their reporting focuses on
incidents – in the area of food safety, for instance, some 40 per cent of the report-
ing is on crises and incidents (Jonkers 2007). This may lead to what the experts
involved in risk assessment and management perceive as irrational overreactions.
This discrepancy between public opinions and views of experts, too, has its
effects on public confidence in safety policies.

Differences in point of view between public opinion and experts are an essential
aspect of current safety issues. It is all but evident, however, which political
conclusions should be drawn from it. Decision-making, after all, cannot just
ignore relevant expertise. Nor is politics capable of resisting permanent public
pressure. The tension that may emerge between scientific support and democratic
legitimacy of safety policies is an important political fact. It is a major political
assignment to configure it in new ways. To this end, a new risk approach devel-
oped over the past two decades may serve as an important first step.

4.3 the emergence of a new risk approach

The classical risk approach emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, it involved a
new instrument for policy in areas such as health and the environment. Over the
years this position has changed in some sectors of business and also government.
Thinking in terms of risks has become constitutive of policy in general (Power
2007). Out of the instrument designed to support efforts dealing with given risks,
an approach has developed that focuses on early detection of potential risks. This
shift changed both the scope and the nature of how risks are conceived and safety
policies are organized. One may even speak of the emergence of a new paradigm
that focuses on dealing with uncertainties rather than with risks (Ewald 2002).

Various factors have contributed to this development. First, trust in the classical
risk approach has been undermined by a variety of serious incidents. These have
confronted administrators with the fact that they had to operate in a social and nat-

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websites cited

Action committee Hoogwaterplatform:
Activities of the European Union – summaries of legislation – the precautionary principle:
Internet Governance Forum (igf):
American Chemistry Council – Responsible Care Initiative:
Office parlementaire d’évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques:
Research programme Nanoned:
Shell – Reporting in line with the un Global Compact:


uk Resilience – Chartered Management Institute Business Continuity Survey 2008:
World Summit on the Information Society (wsis):

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