Locating Labour Law: Conflicting Perspectives and the Case of Occupational Health and Safety

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Locating Law, 2nd Edition. Halifax, NS: Fernwood, 2006.


employment; labour law; locating law; occupational health; OHS; Safety


While the need to locate employment and labour law in its social context is now widely recognized, there is significant disagreement over the character of that social context, how law is located in it, and the way that law both shapes and is shaped by its social location. The importance of these disputes is not just theoretical because their resolution shapes the way labour law is written and implemented. Nowhere is this truer than in one particular area of labour law, occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation. This chapter argues that from its origins in the nineteenth century, OHS regulation has been primarily guided by a consensus view of workers’ and employers’ interests in workplace health and safety. Historically, workers periodically resisted consensus-based regimes of regulation, insisting that the protection of their lives and health requires measures that recognize the salience of conflicts of interest and unequal power relations between workers and employers. From time to time workers succeeded in having the law reformed to address their concerns, but these accomplishments were undermined by the successful re-assertion of consensus perspectives in the implementation of regulatory reforms, resulting in regulatory failures that workers have paid for with their lives and health.

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