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Neglected risk regulation: the institutional attenuation phenomenon

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This paper considers the institutional factors that shape regulatory officials' perceptions of risks to human health and safety and their attitudes towards associated regulation. In particular, the paper considers the extent to which the perceptions of risk and regulation of officials responsible for monitoring and enforcement are aligned with regulatory requirements, and, if not, what factors explain those perceptions. Moreover, the paper considers the impact of officials' perceptions and attitudes on policy processes and outcomes. Empirically, the paper considers three UK risk regulation regimes: occupational exposure to radon, chemical migration from plastics food packaging, and BSE-related controls on specified bovine offal. Analysis of those cases suggests that conventional accounts that contrast 'rational' bureaucratic expertise against 'irrational' lay perspectives can miss the institutional 'irrationalities' that shape officials' perceptions of risk and associated behaviour. In particular, the paper suggests that complex risk regulation regimes are vulnerable to a phenomenon of 'institutional attenuation'. That term refers to institutional processes that serve to diminish inspectors' perceptions or awareness of a risk, and/or diminish inspectors' perceptions of the policy importance of associated regulations. Furthermore, the paper shows how such institutional attenuation can contribute to ineffective monitoring and enforcement of some risk regulation regimes.

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