This study examines how risk trade-offs undermine safety regulations. Safety regulations often come with unintended consequences in that regulations attempting to reduce risk in one area may increase risks elsewhere.
Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) to create a safer working environment. The Act created two federal agencies: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which establishes and enforces workplace safety and health standards, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which researches the causes and remedies of occupational injuries and illnesses. OSHA is the fourth pillar of the US safety policy system, the others being the legal system, state workers’ compensation insurance programs, and the labor market.
When OSHA was established, proponents believed it would dramatically improve the safety and health of American workers. During the forty years of its existence, workplace fatalities and nonfatal injuries and illnesses have fallen but OSHA is not the major cause of this decline. Changes in the industrial mix of workers and improvements in safety technology have combined with expanded employer incentives unrelated to OSHA to decrease worker injuries and illnesses. The financial incentives for employers to expand expenditures on worker safety and health created by the labor market, states' workers' compensation insurance programs, and the legal system swamp the meager incentives created by OSHA.
This paper examines OSHA in light of the other forces affecting workplace safety in the United States to generate a set of policy recommendations for how it can best use its limited resources to improve worker safety and health. No evidence exists that expanding the total number of inspections or the average amount of fines for noncompliance would improve its effectiveness significantly.
The Industry-specific Regulatory Constraint Database (IRCD) is a new database that quantifies federal regulation. IRCD offers a novel and objective measure of the accumulation of regulations in the economy overall and for all the different industries in the U.S. IRCD uses text analysis to count the number of binding constraints in the text of federal regulations, which are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In addition, it measures the degree to which different groups of regulations target specific industries.
This Mercatus on Policy examines how the low quality of both the ACA regulations and the Bush administration’s early homeland security regulations highlight the need for reforms to strengthen the quality of regulatory analysis.
This working paper finds that the quality and use of analysis for the ACA interim final rules falls well below that of conventional notice-and-comment rulemaking by other agencies, including HHS. The poor quality of analysis in the examined ACA rules is comparable to the quality of analysis that accompanied a series of interim final homeland security regulations issued by the Bush administration following 9/11. This suggests that institutional—rather than partisan—factors explain why the quality of regulatory analysis declines when agencies implement significant presidential priorities on short deadlines.