Book review: The Financial and Economic Crises and Their Impact On Health and Social Well-Being

Book Cover NavarreAny of the books written or edited by Vicente Navarro are worth serious consideration.  The latest book, edited with Carles Muntaner has the daunting title of The Financial and Economic Crises and Their Impact On Health and Social Well-Being but it is the content that is important.  The editors’ social class analysis may be unfashionable in some areas, or even anachronistic, but the perspective remains valid, as they write:

“…any explanation of the current crisis requires incorporating a social class perspective so as to understand the modus operandi of the economic-financial-political system.” (page 4)

The book though is about the effects of the crisis on health and well-being and there is much to learn.  The chapter that is the initial focus of this article has been written by two prominent Australian OHS academics, Michael Quinlan and Philip Bohle, and is called “Overstretched and Unreciprocated Commitment: Reviewing Research on the Occupational Health and Safety Effects of Downsizing and Job Insecurity”.

The attraction of this chapter is the evidence drawn from a wide selection of countries and with 25 of the studies having sample sizes of over 2000 participants which allows for the researchers to state that

“The evidence regarding job insecurity and downsizing was remarkably consistent, with 73 studies (85%) identifying negative OHS effects, 7 (8%) finding mixed effects, 5 (5.87%) finding no effect. and only 1 (1.2%) finding a positive effect.” (page 179)

The diversity of the jurisdictions covered in the research adds weight to the findings, according to Quinlan and Bohle.

Quinlan and Bohle conclude their chapter with three suggested areas for further investigation.  These areas seem to be at the core of many of the current workplace safety challenges.  They are:

  • economic and reward pressures:
  • disorganization ( demonstrated by poor induction/training and supervision, inadequate communication between workers, fracturing of management systems, and a reduced capacity to collectively voice concerns); and
  • regulatory failure.

They also identify a growing research base indicating links between drug and alcohol use and downsizing and job insecurity but this connection also illustrates a research limitation, as the authors write, there is

“…a lack of attention given to outcome indices other than health.  Only eight studies (less than 10% of the total), measured injury (five studies), occupational violence (three studies), or OHS knowledge/compliance (one study dealing with risk-taking) outcomes…… This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the effects on injuries, violence, and OHS management and regulatory regimes.” (page 180)

Without getting into a chicken or the egg argument, the attention to health impacts mirrors the current trend where workplace health issues seem to have more sway with politicians and safety regulators.  The situation quoted above may also be indicative of the reticence for safety science studies to “take on” the social sciences, or the economic issues studied by Quinlan and Bohle. OHS still struggles to break out of its comfort zone of machine guarding and PPE.

It may be a particularly Australian (or Jonesian) perspective but the book could have benefited from content from a country that has, generally, weathered the global financial crisis.  The extent of the crisis was not as global as those in the northern hemisphere claim and, as such, comparative studies of OHS and health impacts between the hemispheres could be illuminating.  Australia and New Zealand should not be considered “controls” for northern hemisphere studies but could provide an interesting contrast.

The Navarro/Muntaner book deserves a detailed reading but most books structured in this manner encourage reading of only the chapters relevant to one’s own country or professional subject area.  So perhaps an ad hoc reading is the most that can be expected.

It is refreshing to read a book/chapters on class inequality, the influence of political ideologies and neoliberalism in the context of workplace health and well-being.  This long-term perspective counters many of the OHS and wellbeing spruikers that construct their advice on the latest trend, such as neuroplasticity or “black swan”.  Navarro and Muntaner’s perspective is not only global but embraces the strong historical context missing from many OHS and wellbeing books.

Kevin Jones

SafetyAtWorkBlog was provided with a review copy of this book.  More information on the book is available through the publishers, Baywoood, HERE.

Categories business, economics, evidence, health, OHS, politics, research, safety, Uncategorized, wellness, workplace

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