Skip to main content
Intended for healthcare professionals
Open access
Research article
First published online January 1, 2015

Mobilizing Risk: Explaining Policy Transfer in Food and Occupational Safety Regulation in the UK


Using comparative methods of policy analysis, this paper explores the institutional factors shaping the transfer and adaptation of risk-based approaches to regulation within and between the regimes for occupational health and safety (OHS) and food safety in the UK. Over the past two decades successive governments have enthusiastically promoted risk as a key concept for regulatory reform and ‘better regulation’. Rather than trying to prevent all possible harms, ‘risk-based’ approaches promise to make regulation more proportionate and effective by using various risk-based metrics and policy instruments to focus regulatory standard-setting and enforcement activity on the highest priority risks, as determined through formal assessments of their probability and consequences. But despite facing similar external pressures and sharing many historical and structural features as OHS, food safety regulation has proven much less receptive to risk-based reforms of its organizing principles and practices. To explain that anomaly, we consider a range of explanations highlighted in the policy transfer and mobilities literatures. We find that coercive drivers for the adoption of risk, in the form of top-down political pressure for deregulation or hard EU mandates, are much less influential than voluntary ones, which reflect both normative (ie, shared commitments to proportionality, resource prioritization, and blame deflection) and mimetic (ie, imitation of private sector corporate governance models) isomorphism. We conclude with wider reflections about the significance of our cases for policy transfer and mobilities research and for the limits to risk as a universal principle for organizing, and accounting for, governance activity.


Barber J, 2002 Health and Safety in Construction: Guidance for Construction Professionals Institute of Civil Engineers, London)
Benson D, Jordan A, 2011, “What have we learned from policy transfer research? Dolowitz and Marsh revisited” Political Studies Review 9 366–378
BERR, 2007 Regulators' Compliance Code: A Statutory Code of Practice for Regulators Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, London
BRC, 2006, “Risk, responsibility and regulation—whose risk is it anyway?”, Better Regulation Commission, London
Breyer S G, 1993 Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA)
Brown G, 2006, “Speech by the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, MP to the CBI President's Dinner 5 June 2006”,
Cabinet Office, 2002, “Risk: Improving the government's capability to handle risk and uncertainty”, Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, London
Castree N, 2005, “The epistemology of particulars: Human geography, case studies and ‘context’” Geoforum 36 541–544
CEC, 2007, “Improving quality and productivity at work: Community strategy 2007–2012 on health and safety at work”, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels
Connolly J, 2008, “Europeanization, uploading and downloading: The case of Defra and avian influenza” Public Policy and Administration 23 7–25
CPS, 2013 The Code for Crown Prosecutors 7th edition, Crown Prosecution Service, London
de Jong M, 2009, “Rose's ‘10 steps’: Why process messiness, history and culture are not vague and banal” Policy and Politics 37 145–150
Demeritt D, Nobert S, 2011, “Responding to early flood warning in the European Union”, in Forecasting, Warning, and Transnational Risks: Is Prevention Possible? Eds Meyer C O, de Franco C (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, Hants), pp 127–147
DiMaggio P J, Powell W W, 1983, “The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields” American Sociological Review 48 147–160
Dodds A, 2006, “The core executive's approach to regulation: From ‘better regulation’ to ‘risk-tolerant deregulation’” Social Policy and Administration 40 526–542
DoH, 1996, “Code of practice No. 8 on food standards inspections (second revision)”, Department of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, London
Dolowitz D, Marsh D, 1996, “Who learns what from whom: A review of the policy transfer literature” Political Studies 44 343–357
Dolowitz D P, Marsh D, 2000, “Learning from abroad: The role of policy transfer in contemporary policy-making” Governance 13 5–23
Downs A, 1967 Inside Bureaucracy Little Brown, Boston, MA)
Dunleavy P, 1991 Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice: Economic Explanations in Political Science Harvester Wheatsheaf, London)
DWP, 2011, “Press release: Reforming Britain's health and safety regime to put common sense back”, 21 March, Department for Work and Pensions,
EFSA, 2013, “Press release: Meat inspection: European Food Safety Authority completes review of practices and recommends improvements”, European Food Safety Authority,
Fairman R, 2007, “What makes tolerability of risk work? Exploring the limitations of its applicability to other risk fields”, in The Tolerability of Risk: A New Framework for Risk Management Eds Bouder F, Lofstedt R E, Slavin D (Earthscan, London), pp 119–138
FSA, Food Standards Agency, London 2006, “Annual Report, 2005/06”
FSA, Food Standards Agency, London 2009, “Future meat controls—programme to deliver more risk-based proportionate controls”
FSA, Food Standards Agency, London 2011, “Annual Report and Consolidated Accounts 2010/11”
FSA, Food Standards Agency, London 2012a, “Compliance and Enforcement Strategy for 2010–15”
FSA, Food Standards Agency, London 2012b, “Capability Review”
Gray G C, 2009, “The responsibilization strategy of health and safety: Neo-liberalism and the reconfiguration of individual responsibility for risk” British Journal of Criminology 49 326–342
Gruszczynski L, 2010 Regulating Health and Environmental Risks Under WTO Law: A Critical Analysis of the SPS Agreement Oxford University Press, Oxford)
Hampton P, 2005 Reducing Administrative Burdens: Effective Inspection and Enforcement HM Treasury, London
Hawkins K, 2002 Law as Last Resort: Prosecution Decision-making in a Regulatory Agency Oxford University Press, Oxford)
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Public General Acts—Elizabeth II chapter 37 HMSO, London)
Hennock E P, 2007 The Origin of the Welfare State in England and Germany, 1850–1914: Social Policies Compared Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)
HM Government, 2010 The Coalition: Our Programme for Government Cabinet Office, London
Hood C, Rothstein H, Baldwin R, 2001 The Government of Risk: Understanding Risk Regulation Regimes Oxford University Press, Oxford)
Howard M, 2004, “Food hygiene regulation and enforcement policy in the UK: The underlying philosophy and comparisons with occupational health and safety law” Food Service Technology 4(2) 69–73
HSE, 1988, “The tolerability of risk from nuclear power stations”, Health and Safety Executive, London
HSE, 2009, “Enforcement policy statement”, Health and Safety Executive, Bootle
HSE, 2013, “United Kingdom Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment (UK-ILGRA)”, Health and Safety Executive,
Huber M, Rothstein H, 2013, “The risk organisation: Or how organisations reconcile themselves to failure” Journal of Risk Research 16 651–675
Hutter B M, 2011 Managing Food Safety and Hygiene: Governance and Regulation as Risk Management Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, Glos)
James O, Lodge M, 2003, “The limitations of ‘policy transfer’ and ‘lesson drawing’ for public policy research” Political Studies Review 1 179–193
James P, 1997, “Food Standards Agency Report—an interim proposal”, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,
James P, Tombs S, Whyte D, 2013, “An independent review of British health and safety regulation? From common sense to non-sense” Policy Studies 34 36–52
Kingdon J W, 1984 Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies Little Brown, Boston, MA)
Knill C, 2001 The Europeanisation of National Administrations: Patterns of Institutional Change and Persistence Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)
Lancashire Evening Post 2004, “We can never prevent another Bay disaster”,
Larner W, Laurie N, 2010, “Travelling technocrats, embodied knowledges: Globalising privatisation in telecoms and water” Geoforum 41 218–226
Lofstedt R, 2011 Reclaiming Health and Safety for All: An Independent Review of Health and Safety Legislation Stationery Office, London)
McCann E, 2011, “Urban policy mobilities and global circuits of knowledge: Toward a research agenda” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101 107–130
McCann E, Ward K, 2012, “Policy assemblages, mobilities and mutations: Toward a multidisciplinary conversation” Political Studies Review 10 325–332
McCann E, Ward K, 2013, “A multi-disciplinary approach to policy transfer research: Geographies, assemblages, mobilities and mutations” Policy Studies 34 2–18
Majone G (Ed.), 2003 Risk Regulation in the European Union: Between Enlargement and Internationalization European University Institute, Florence)
OECD, 2010 Risk and Regulatory Policy: Improving the Governance of Risk OECD Publishing, Paris)
Orru K, Rothstein H, 2015, “Not ‘dead letters’, just ‘blind eyes’: The Europeanisation of drinking water safety regulation in Estonia and Lithuania” Environment and Planning A 47 …-…
Patterson O, 2013, “Oral statement to the House on food fraud. 10 February”,
Peck J, 2011, “Geographies of policy: From transfer-diffusion to mobility-mutation” Progress in Human Geography 35 773–797
Peck J, Theodore N, 2001, “Exporting workfare/importing welfare-to-work: Exploring the politics of Third Way policy transfer” Political Geography 20 427–460
Peck J, Theodore N, 2012, “Follow the policy: A distended case approach” Environment and Planning A 44 21–30
Lord Phillips, Bridgeman J, Ferguson-Smith M, 2000 The BSE Inquiry: The Report The Stationery Office, London)
Porter J, Demeritt D, 2012, “Flood-risk management, mapping, and planning: The institutional politics of decision support in England” Environment and Planning A 44 2359–2378
Robens A, 1972 Safety and Health at Work HMSO, London)
Rose R, 1993 Lesson-drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning Across Time and Space Chatham House Publishers, Chatham, NJ)
Rothstein H, 2013, “Domesticating participation: Participation and the institutional rationalities of science-based policy-making in the UK Food Standards Agency” Journal of Risk Research 16 771–790
Rothstein H, Downer J, 2012, ” ‘Renewing Defra’: Exploring the emergence of risk-based policymaking in UK central government” Public Administration 90 781–799
Rothstein H, Borraz O, Huber M, 2013, “Risk and the limits of governance: Exploring varied patterns of risk-based governance across Europe” Regulation and Governance 7 215–235
Rothstein H R, Beaussier A-L, Borraz O, Bouder F, Demeritt D, de Haan M, Huber M, Paul R, Wesseling M, 2015, “When ‘must’ means ‘maybe’: Varieties of risk regulation and the problem of trade-offs in Europe”, HowSAFE WP 1, 15 January,
Royal Society, 2005, “Social science insights for risk assessment”, Royal Society, London
Sheller M, Urry J, 2006, “The new mobilities paradigm” Environment and Planning A 38 207–226
Stone D, 1999, “Learning lessons and transferring policy across time, space and disciplines” Politics 19 51–59
Stone D, 2000, “Non-governmental policy transfer: The strategies of independent policy institutes” Governance 13 45–70
Temenos C, McCann E, 2013, “Geographies of policy mobilities” Geography Compass 7 344–357
Temple M, 2014, “Triennial Review Report: Health and Safety Executive. An independent review of the function, form and governance of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Summary of Evidence”, Department of Work and Pensions, London
Thelen K, 1999, “Historical institutionalism in comparative politics” Annual Review of Political Science 2 369–404
Tombs S, Whyte D, 2010, “A deadly consensus: Worker safety and regulatory degradation under New Labour” British Journal of Criminology 50(1) 46–65
Tombs S, Whyte D, 2013, “Transcending the deregulation debate? Regulation, risk, and the enforcement of health and safety law in the UK” Regulation and Governance 7 61–79
Vogel D, 2012 The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ)
Walker J L, 1969, “The diffusion of innovations among the American states” American Political Science Review 63 880–899
Walters D, Johnstone R, Frick K, Quinian M, Baril-Gingras G, Thebaud-Mony A, 2011 Regulating Workplace Risks: A Comparative Study of Inspection Regimes in Times of Change Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, Glos)
Van Zwanenberg P, Millstone E, 2005 BSE: Risk, Science, and Governance Oxford University Press, New York)

Cite article

Cite article

Cite article


Download to reference manager

If you have citation software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice

Share options


Share this article

Share with email

Share access to this article

Sharing links are not relevant where the article is open access and not available if you do not have a subscription.

For more information view the Sage Journals article sharing page.

Information, rights and permissions


Published In

Article first published online: January 1, 2015
Issue published: February 2015


  1. risk governance
  2. policy mobilities
  3. food safety
  4. occupational health and safety
  5. risk-based regulation

Rights and permissions

© 2015 SAGE Publications.
Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 3.0)
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page(
Request permissions for this article.


Manuscript received: February 14, 2014
Revision received: October 2, 2014
Published online: January 1, 2015
Issue published: February 2015



David Demeritt
Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS; England
Henry Rothstein
Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS; England
Anne-Laure Beaussier
Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS; England
Michael Howard
King's Centre for Risk Management, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, England


Corresponding author.

Metrics and citations


Journals metrics

This article was published in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.


Article usage*

Total views and downloads: 1361

*Article usage tracking started in December 2016


See the impact this article is making through the number of times it’s been read, and the Altmetric Score.
Learn more about the Altmetric Scores

Articles citing this one

Web of Science: 28 view articles Opens in new tab

Crossref: 30

  1. Regulating through disclosure: the case of food hygiene barometer rati...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  2. “Carrying the black pot”: Food safety and risk in China's reactive reg...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  3. Regulatory transfer in transitioning economies: responses to corruptio...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  4. Why regulators assess risk differently: Regulatory style, business org...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  5. Edge cases in animal research law: Constituting the regulatory borderl...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  6. Locating the ‘culture wars’ in laboratory animal research: national co...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  7. Understanding climate change as risk: a review of IPCC guidance for de...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  8. Strategic ignorance and crises of trust: Un-anticipating futures and g...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  9. Risk Identification: A Corpus‐Assisted Study of Websites of Government...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  10. Analyse and rule? A conceptual framework for explaining the variable a...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  11. Steering by their own lights: Why regulators across Europe use differe...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  12. The boundary conditions for regulation: Welfare systems, state traditi...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  13. Corporate governance and the environment in the health sector: Systema...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  14. Varieties of risk regulation in Europe: coordination, complementarity ...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  15. Regulating risks within complex sociotechnical systems: Evidence from ...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  16. Study Regarding the Improvement of Bottling Process for Spring Waters,...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  17. The Protective State
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  18. Sharing food and risk in Berlin’s urban food commons
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  19. Explaining Trends in Risk Governance: How Problem Definitions Underpin...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  20. Study on the Influence of Government Intervention on the Occupational ...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  21. Beyond regulatory capture: Coproducing expertise for critical infrastr...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  22. Risky policies: Local contestation of mainstream flood risk management...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  23. Governing Towards ‘One Health’: Establishing Knowledge Integration in ...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  24. A critical commentary on management science in relation to reforms aft...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  25. Paperwork and the decoupling of audit and animal welfare: The challeng...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  26. Intelligent Monitoring? Assessing the ability of the Care Quality Comm...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  27. Attending to Meat
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  28. Australian Food Safety Policy Changes from a “Command and Control” to ...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  29. Accounting for failure: risk-based regulation and the problems of ensu...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  30. Adaptive and risk-based approaches to climate change and the managemen...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar

Figures and tables

Figures & Media


View Options

View options


View PDF/ePub

Get access

Access options

If you have access to journal content via a personal subscription, university, library, employer or society, select from the options below:

Alternatively, view purchase options below:

Purchase 24 hour online access to view and download content.

Access journal content via a DeepDyve subscription or find out more about this option.