Sustainability and Social Justice

The Occupational and Environmental Status of Polish Industry: A Comparative Study of the Private and Public Sectors

Document Type



During the last decade, Poland has made a successful transition toward democracy and market economy. Since the mid-1990s, we have studied the reforms in the environmental and occupational protection system in Poland, focusing on the privately owned firms. We found that considerable progress has taken place, especially in increasing the accountability of private employers and in improved enforcement. The fundamental legitimacy of regulators and the regulatory process, and the capacity for case-specific decision-making, are among the key explanatory factors. The case-specific implementation in Poland is consistent with models advocated by several authors in relation to other industrialized European economies. We attribute these developments in Poland to the continuity of institutions, and the generally good “fit” between the policies and institutions on one hand, and their social context on the other, including a wide sharing of certain values and norms. The outstanding question from our previous work has been the fate of state-owned firms, which may be facing different issues than the privatized ones, both in terms of economics, organizational culture, and relationships with the regulatory authorities. In this article, we report the results of a comparison between the private and state-owned firms, based on the questionnaire surveys of the two sectors. We find a striking similarity in performance of both sectors and in the authorities’ attitudes toward both. These findings support our earlier proposition that Poland’s success in instituting an effective occupational protection system is deeply embedded in the attitudes toward protecting workers’ health and safety and toward balancing competing societal objectives. These attitudes have not changed during the transition to the market economy.

Publication Title

New Solutions

Publication Date






First Page


Last Page