Can Governments Really Make the Workplace Safer?

Source: Mises Wire.

I am particularly intrigued by a reference in this article to a Cato paper which claims, “the vast majority of studies has found no statistically significant reduction in the rate of workplace fatalities or injuries due to OSHA.”

I imagine other public health and safety programs we take for granted are similarly impotent. Why do we think we need them?

Part of the answer — I am sure — is a misunderstanding about profits and how business functions. Many people assume that profits are synonymous with greed, that somehow profits represent an excess that business operations can do without. Profits, they reason, are only the money left over after all expenses are paid.

But in fact profits also are the money saved by cutting expenses. In their purest form profits derive from increasing production by doing more with less. They also are the irreplaceable source of the investment needed to improve productivity, which is necessary to remain competitive.

Put another way, profits may be pursued out of greed, but no business can operate for long without them. As a practical matter, greed is irrelevant.

It is not hard to see how public health and safety can arise naturally and inherently in the course of business operations. When a production process is unsafe it will be hard to attract workers to perform it. When a product is unsafe, it will be hard to attract buyers to buy it.

These factors are sufficient to explain how it happens that public health and safety regulations don’t accomplish much, if anything.

8 thoughts on “Can Governments Really Make the Workplace Safer?

  1. OHSA has had virtually no impact on workplace safety. The trend toward workplace safety was well established before OSHA and simply continued that trend

    Insurance companies do a far better job of protecting workers by pricing risk.

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  2. The chart shown is an over-simplification of a complex reality. One factor not identified is the improvement in medical and emergency services from 1933 to 1970 which likely has more to do with the downward trend than do voluntary safety spending by industry.

    If favorable trends magically continue, that would be great news. Again, in reality it takes effort and investment to make such things happen. It may be cheaper to buy insurance rather than spend money to save lives and THAT is exactly what most business would do if the could. I worked in an industry where OSHA inspections were real motivators to eliminate hazards. Helped to focus the minds of management.

    More significantly the chart leaves out occupational disease the mitigation of which is a major part of what OSHA is all about. In fact, far more important than immediate deaths from on-the-job accidents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “One factor not identified is the improvement in medical and emergency services from 1933 to 1970 which likely has more to do with the downward trend than do voluntary safety spending by industry.”

      Your point is that spending on OSHA doesn’t change the trend? That would be a good argument for not spending on OSHA, which is the point of the article.

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      1. With respect to advances in medicine and emergency services, the law of diminishing returns sets in. It is harder and harder to bend that curve when the low hanging fruit has been picked.

        And, you still want to ignore the main function of OSHA – reducing occupational disease.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So OSHA can’t take credit for work place safety improvements because they were already trending downward. But Trump gets FULL credit for the improving economy started under Obama’s leadership.

    Got it! H-Y-P-…

    And before saying I am comparing apples to oranges, think about exactly what I am saying about the Right wing demagogues who believe that NO regulation is a good thing.

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    1. RE: “So OSHA can’t take credit for work place safety improvements because they were already trending downward.”

      Not exactly. OSHA can’t take credit because the improvements cannot be linked to OSHA.

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      1. They can and are.

        Cherry picking stats to make things look different than they actually are is a tactic often used by those who believe that only complete and total deregulation is the way to go.

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      2. “There were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers
        in 2018, unchanged from 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These data are
        estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). The incidence rate for total
        recordable cases (TRC) in private industry also remained unchanged from a year ago. (See chart 1.) This
        is the first year since 2012 that the TRC rate did not decline.”

        https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/osh_11072019.htm

        Injuries and illnesses are much higher than just fatalities. And the effects can be devastating with regards to quality of life and longevity.

        Liked by 1 person

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