Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA
Center for Progressive Reform White Paper No. 1003
37 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2013
Date Written: February 1, 2010
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was born with a heavy load to bear – the obligation of ensuring that every worker in America has a safe and healthful workplace for his or her entire working life. In its early years, OSHA acted with great vigor, establishing important standards for occupational health and safety that have prevented hundreds of thousands of injuries and illnesses. But the agency has not aged gracefully. Today its enforcement staff is stretched thin and the rulemaking staff struggle to produce health and safety standards that can withstand industry legal challenges. In short, OSHA is a picture of regulatory dysfunction.
This white paper explores the causes of OSHA’s regulatory dysfunctions and describes their negative impacts on OSHA and America’s workers. With the decreasing power of unions to organize and press employers to implement strong health and safety programs, employees in every occupation rely on OSHA to protect them from occupational hazards. Yet, in the last decade, OSHA has dropped more standards from its regulatory agenda than it has finalized, largely due to insufficient budget authority. And the agency’s enforcement program has assessed such paltry fines for even fatality-related violations of the law that many employers see no incentive in addressing hazards, much less developing precautionary health and safety programs.
After describing OSHA’s problems in detail, this paper outlines a number of reforms that could enhance the agency’s performance. Although certain aspects of the Occupational Safety and Health Act could use improvement, the recommendations in this paper focus on regulatory reform – that is, administrative actions that OSHA could implement in the short term. A subsequent white paper will address legislative reform.
Keywords: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace safety, enforcement, hazards, regulatory reform
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