Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, issued the following statement as the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce holds a hearing on “Investigating OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda and Its Impact on Job Creation.” Michaels understands the committee’s interest in examining the relationship between OSHA’s regulatory agenda and job creation. The Labor Department is focused on doing everything possible to support the creation of good, safe jobs.
“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. 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.
“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. 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.
“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. The evidence shows 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. 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.
“The failure to issue sensible regulations endangers not only workers’ health and safety but also hurts American competitiveness. 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 U.S. 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.”