Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 15 Issue 3 (September 2007), Pages 119-170

Reorganising Public Oversight of High‐Risk Industries in France – A Reliability Analysis of Permitting (pages 143-156)

In the aftermath of the AZF accident which occurred in Toulouse, France on 21 September 2001, several initiatives have been taken to reform French industrial risk policy. The reorganisation of control agencies has been a crucial aspect of these efforts. In this paper, I intend to produce a reliability diagnosis regarding the delivery of operating permits by these agencies, in order to answer the following question: did the reorganisation improve or undermine the reliability of the agencies' decisions? Based on Larry Heimann's analytical framework, my empirical analysis combines counterfactuals and interviews, and transfers causal arguments from post‐accident studies to normal operational agencies. This method yields interesting insights regarding the reliability gains and losses which could ensue from the various organisational transformations that the agencies experienced. Mostly, it emphasises why some aspects of the reform are likely to have consequences contrary to those which were anticipated by policymakers. Beyond the French case, the analysis also sheds new light on the advantages and drawbacks of using third party reviewers for the public control of risk‐laden private activities.

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