Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA

37 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2013

See all articles by Thomas Owen McGarity

Thomas Owen McGarity

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Rena I. Steinzor

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; Center for Progressive Reform

Sidney A. Shapiro

Wake Forest University School of Law

Matthew Shudtz

Center for Progressive Reform

Date Written: February 1, 2010

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

McGarity, Thomas Owen and Steinzor, Rena I. and Shapiro, Sidney A. and Shudtz, Matthew, Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA (February 1, 2010). Center for Progressive Reform White Paper No. 1003; U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-14; Energy Center Research Paper No. 09-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1566897

Thomas Owen McGarity

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512-232-1384 (Phone)

Rena I. Steinzor (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

Center for Progressive Reform ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States

Sidney A. Shapiro

Wake Forest University School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States
336-758-5430 (Phone)

Matthew Shudtz

Center for Progressive Reform ( email )

Washington, DC 20005
United States

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