Transmitting the Costs of Unsafe Work
57 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 5, 2016
This article investigates the ways in which employers are made to "feel" the costs generated by workers' occupational illnesses and injuries. In economic terms, many of those costs are externalized, i.e. experienced by parties other than the employer, whose safety decisions are therefore distorted. The law and the labor market set up a variety of mechanisms that may transmit costs back to the employer: workers' compensation claims, government complaints, union activity, workers' demands for safety improvements or compensatory wages, and worker quits. Yet each of these requires that workers have sufficient knowledge, power, and resources to act as cost transmitters. Using worker survey data, this article explores cost transmission at the bottom of the labor market. Finding flaws in the operation of all cost transmission mechanisms, the article proposes a hybrid system that would give a greater role to government enforcement and consumer and investor pressure, as well as unions, filling in where workers are particularly unwilling or unable to transmit costs effectively themselves.
Keywords: workers, employment, workforce, occupational safety, occupational illness, injury, occupational injury, labor law, employment law
JEL Classification: J28, K31, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation