OSHA’s Michaels Responds to Criticism his Agency is a Job Killer

Feb. 17, 2011
Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, is responding to critics in Congress who claim that OSHA regulations place an unfair burden on employers, saying sensible regulations not only keep American workers safe and healthy, but improve American competitiveness.

“The failure to issue sensible regulations endangers not only workers’ health and safety but also hurts American competitiveness,” said Michaels. “For example, because OSHA has a weak noise standard and weak enforcement, U.S. employers have no incentive to buy modern, quieter machines, which means that U.S. manufacturers don’t build them, and there are few jobs in the United States for engineers who could design them. A recent study by the National Academy of Engineering concludes that European manufacturers are way ahead of us in designing and building modern, quieter machinery. Today, when businesses anywhere in the world want to buy quieter equipment, they look not to the United States but to Europe. “

Michaels was responding to the criticism leveled at his agency during the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Feb. 15 hearing on “Investigating OSHA's Regulatory Agenda and Its Impact on Job Creation.” The Republican majority on the subcommittee, as well as many of those testifying before the committee, complained that OSHA’s enforcement efforts impose substantial burdens on employers, especially small business owners, with Subcommittee Chair Tim Walberg, R-Mich., stating, “Needless rules and are onerous regulations are often roadblocks to economic growth and job creation.”

Michaels said he understands the committee’s interest in examining the relationship between OSHA’s regulatory agenda and job creation, adding that the Labor Department is focused on doing everything possible to support the creation of good, safe jobs.

“Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s commonsense regulations have made working conditions in this country today far safer than 40 years ago when the agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs,” said Michaels. “The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers. OSHA standards don't just prevent worker injuries and illnesses. They also drive technological innovation, making industries more competitive.”

According to Michaels, many OSHA standards cost little and easily can be adopted by employers with nominal effect on the bottom line. “OSHA, by law and by practice, always looks at both the overall cost of compliance with a proposed regulation and at the expected benefits,” said Michaels, who added that OSHA generally overestimates the cost of its standards.

Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, comparing the predicted and actual costs of eight OSHA regulations, found that in almost all cases “industries that were most affected achieved compliance straightforwardly, and largely avoided the destructive economic effects” that they feared. For example, standards intended to protect workers from cancer-causing chemicals such as vinyl chloride and ethylene oxide were shown to not only protect workers but also to increase productivity. OSHA’s trenching standard has significantly cut the death rate for construction workers and OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard has almost eliminated work-related cases of hepatitis B and HIV.

“I think we can all agree that the American economy must succeed but never at the cost of the safety or health of American workers,” said Michaels. “OSHA’s goal is to ensure that everyone who goes to work returns home safely. I think we can also agree that the size of a business should not determine the level of protection that a worker receives. All workers have the same right to a safe workplace.”

An estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job the year that Congress created OSHA nearly 40 years ago. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled and now includes more than 130 million workers at more than 7.2 million worksites. Since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.9 per 100 workers in 2008.

“But OSHA’s job isn’t over,” said Michaels. “More than 3 million workers in America are injured every year. Every day, 12 workers die on the job. OSHA’s commonsense regulations are helping to drive these numbers down and, at the same time, helping American businesses modernize and compete in the global economy.”

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