Transcending the deregulation debate? Regulation, risk, and the enforcement of health and safety law in the UK


Correspondence: David Whyte, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK. Email:


This paper considers the context for the development of the concept of responsive regulation, namely the transcending of the deregulation debate. It argues that claims regarding responsive regulation when allied to risk-based rationales for enforcement can, in fact, allow a “deregulatory” momentum to develop. This argument is grounded with reference to a case study of the regulation of workplace health and safety in the UK, with a particular focus upon the period 2000–2010. The paper casts doubt on the relevance and robustness of the concept of responsive regulation. In a context that might have been fertile ground for developing genuinely responsive regulatory policy, empirically we find the development of policies that are better described as “regulatory degradation.” Thus we argue in this paper that, whatever the intentions of its proponents, there is a logical affinity between responsive regulation, and effective de-regulation, and that it is this affinity that has provided a convenient political rationale for the emergence of a neo-liberal regulatory settlement in the UK.