No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Solidarity and Indifference

Solidarity and Indifference in Safety Management

“The true threat to solidarity is not institutionalization per se, but when social institutions operate independently of the individuals they are meant to serve.”

Rahel Jaeggi



We often say or hear that HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) management is about caring for each other. For instance, look at the Bradley Curve, which has ‘Interdependence’ as the target level. This level includes caring for others, and a shared commitment and cooperative action for safety and well-being. The Bradley Curve primarily considers interdependence WITHIN an organization, while suggesting a structured approach to achieving it, with specific behaviors and roles. The resulting preference of management for an ‘interdependent’ culture over an ‘in-/dependent’ one obscures systemic influences.  

So, despite the well-meaning value prose, is what organizations do about health and safety really based on a deeply reciprocal connection of shared goals and mutual support? How much solidarity do we really see, and how much indifference?

Interconnectedness and Cooperation in Health and Safety Management

Only when we see the well-being of others as crucial for the flourishing of shared projects does solidarity become a fundamental value, which supports an interconnectedness that transcends individual interests. This is not just about mutual risk-sharing, but about interconnectedness and redistribution, a shared commitment crucial for social integration and individual self-realization. To get to this kind of solidarity, our cooperation needs to be transparent and democratic, allowing people to actively shape and participate in their work conditions.

Health and safety, as part of ethical life, involves non-instrumental cooperation that supports the common good. Health and safety management, based on solidarity, requires health and safety to be seen as a shared value. But how do we do that when managers prioritize efficiency and maximizing returns on investment?


Solidarity? It’s complex…

Solidarity is potentially exclusive and particularistic, but can be expansive and inclusive in response to the interdependencies of globalization. Solidarity is an awareness and actualization of social interdependencies: we are inherently part of a BIG social network. Realizing one's association with others prompts solidaristic action. Be that as it may, the emergence of solidarity is often precarious and contingent. After an accident, we might support a victim if it’s one of our own people. Maybe we even show some support if it’s a (sub)contractor, but we seldom come into contact with these people. And where’s the solidarity for foreign producers of parts that are used in our systems?


Transforming Coexistence into Active Cooperation

Solidarity is not inherently given. It’s realized through praxis and cooperative action towards common goals. Solidarity empowers individuals by enabling active participation in shaping common life. It transforms passive coexistence into active cooperation. Health and Safety institutions, though essential for solidarity given the interdependent nature of civil society and individual liberty, are a crystallized form of solidarity that may weaken direct mutual help and personal social bonds as they become more professional and state-controlled.

Contracting work can lead to either social integration or disintegration. Social disintegration has to do with an anomic division of labor that fails to create solidarity. When this happens, the challenge lies in establishing a new morality where individuals see themselves as part of a cooperative whole, despite increasing specialization.


Strengthening Solidarity by Recognizing and Engaging with Structural Interdependencies

Solidarity is threatened by a withdrawal from common goals and the corresponding increase of social indifference. If structural obstacles obscure interdependencies, this often leads to social alienation. When workers are technically self-employed but functionally dependent on a single employer, hidden social structures impede solidarity. Therefore, we need to recognize and actively relate to social interdependencies.

Recognizing these complex interdependencies should strengthen social bonds, contrary to focusing on simplistic communal values. It’s not selfishness, but rather a failure to understand and engage with the structural conditions of social cooperation. Analyzing these conditions, rather than idealistically lamenting the loss of community values – including the value of care – supports solidarity in managing production safely.


Inspired by:

Jaeggi, R. (2001), Solidarity and Indifference, in: ter Meulen, R., Arts, W., Muffels, R. (eds) Solidarity in Health and Social Care in Europe, Philosophy and Medicine, vol 69, Springer, Dordrecht.