Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Physical Safety

Physical Safety: A Matter of Balancing Responsibilities

Marjolein B.A. van Asselt
Peter de Goede
V.C. Karin Ammerlaan
Jelle van Aanholt
Series: WRR Rapporten
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 96
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Physical Safety
    Book Description:

    Physical safety is a core task of government. It is neither surprising nor unreasonable for government to be held accountable for hazardous substances, for food safety, for flood protection, for the spread of infectious diseases, or for the risks involved in new technologies. In 2011 the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations asked the Scientific Council for Government Policy (wrr) to investigate the scope for the development of a generic risk policy in relation to physical safety. Do citizens and businesses take sufficient responsibility for physical safety? Could the government assume a smaller role, and what part could the business community play in this? In this report the WRR argues that in order to answer these questions a distinction needs to be made between incidents, damage, risk and uncertainty. In addition, the wrr recommends that the thinking about responsibility for safety should not be placed in the perspective of a failing government, but that the central focus should be on the ambition of good governance. Finally, the wrr suggests that thinking about safety from the perspective of damage offers a useful framework for thinking through and reassessing the distribution of responsibilities. Responsibility for preventing, limiting and dealing with damage can only be assigned in advance, not retrospectively. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1838-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-8)

    The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) is an independent advisory body for the Dutch government. Its position is governed by the Act Establishing a Scientific Council on Government Policy of 30 June 1976 (Instellingswet WRR). The task of the WRR is to advise government on issues of importance for society. Unlike other advisory bodies in The Hague, the WRR is not tied to one policy sector. Rather, its reports go beyond individual sectors; they are concerned with the direction of government policy in the longer term.

    This report was prepared by an internal WRR project group consisting of...

    (pp. 9-18)

    Physical safety is a basic requirement for personal development and lays the foundation for prosperity and wellbeing. Thanks to many decades of government intervention, the Netherlands has become a relatively safe country. As the outgoing Government made clear in the most recent Coalition Agreement (2010): “Safety is a central task of government”. In addition, government is obliged by the Dutch Constitution and international conventions¹ to guarantee a certain level of safety and risk coverage.

    It is hence neither surprising nor unreasonable for the public to hold government responsible for real or potential threats to and actual violations of physical safety....

    (pp. 19-28)

    In the Minister’s request for reflection, he refers to the risk-regulation reflex, the conceptual framework for matters of physical safety. When a clear distinction is made between uncertainty, risks, incidents and damage, then the disquiet expressed in the Minister’s questions clearly concerns how politicians and public administrators respond to incidents. At issue is how they respond when physical safety is actually violated, and not their response to risks.¹

    Incidents are ‘critical moments’ in the political and administrative system in which the pattern of decision-making differs from the customary, rule-bound structures (COT 1998; Rosenthal, Boin and Comfort 2001; Boin et al....

    (pp. 29-50)

    How can government take charge of its responsibility in the event of potential threats to physical safety? Policy intended to manage risk and uncertainty calls on politicians and public administrators to undertake a difficult appraisal. After all, high-risk and uncertain activities can also offer society advantages, otherwise we would probably not engage in them. The responsibility for physical safety forces us to consider the opportunities and threats and weigh them against each other (Chapter 1). Do the potential advantages weigh up against the possible disadvantages? Which hazards are personal matters, and which ones require collective mechanisms?¹ Underpinning these questions is...

    (pp. 51-76)

    The debate concerning responsibility for physical safety has wrongly neglected the topic of damage arrangements.¹ After all, the burden associated with threats must be borne by someone. Arguing from the perspective of damage clarifies matters, because damage is something tangible. It also adds a sense of urgency. Who is going to help foot the bill for safety and for any damage that occurs? What can we expect potential sources of damage to do and to contribute? What role can potential victims play? To what extent are citizens and businesses responsible in a private capacity, and where does government’s collective responsibility...

    (pp. 77-84)

    How can government take responsibility for physical safety in accordance with its statutory obligations and the need for collective mechanisms, and at the same time ensure that citizens and businesses also assume their share of the responsibility (and are capable of doing so)? What can and should we expect of citizens and businesses, and what should government do?

    There are no easy answers to these difficult questions. We have nevertheless attempted to provide a scientifically informed answer to the questions presented to us. These questions are the following:

    – Are there reference points for dismantling existing mechanisms and breaking through...

    (pp. 85-92)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 93-93)