"Lack of regulations...can lead to loss of jobs"

In a speech before the American Bar Association earlier this month, OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels said that workplaces have become much safer during the agency’s forty year existence. In 1970, there were 38 workers killed on the job daily in the U.S., compared with 12 fatalities per day in 2011.

“Today, people pay more attention to worker protection than they did before enactment of the OSH Act,” said Michaels. “Because of this landmark law, our workplaces and our nation are more efficient, more productive, and more humane.”

He cited several of OSHA’s accomplishments:
  • The passage of the cotton dust standard, after which brown lung disease among textile workers dropped from 12 to 1 percent
  • The establishment of the grain handling standard, which produced a 42 percent drop in grain explosions, a 60 percent decrease in worker injuries and a 70 percent decrease in worker fatalities
  • The development of needlestick and bloodborne pathogen standards which have helped shield healthcare workers from getting sick or dying from hepatitis B.

Ten years, two new standards

“OSHA isn't the enemy of business,” said Michaels. “We all want to see our workplaces succeed. What good is an injured, sick or dead worker to an employer?”

He noted that employers want the chance to compete fairly with other businesses here and around the world.

“It's not fair to the majority of responsible employers when other people attempt to weaken or ignore OSHA's common-sense regulations. Our regulations create a level playing field to make sure everyone follows the rules.”

Responding to criticism that workplaces are overregulated, Michaels pointed out that during the last ten years, OSHA has issued just two new standards.

“You all know that when we issue a new regulation, it's after years of work – data collection and analysis, cost-benefit studies, feasibility studies, public comment periods, public hearings. With modern technology, we've added live Web chats. We do all this to listen to stakeholders.

Michaels said OSHA actually helps the economy, because healthy workers contribute to productivity, and because OSHA regulations – in addition to preventing worker injuries – push companies to modernize and innovate.

“In fact, there's ample evidence that a lack of regulations can cost lives that can lead to worksite closings and the loss of jobs,” he said.


He described OSHA as a “small” agency, relative to the scope of its mission. When state OSHA inspectors are factored in, there are fewer than 2,500 inspectors tasked with monitoring the health and safety of 130 million workers.

“Still, because enforcement remains an effective deterrent, we are leveraging our limited resources to maintain strong enforcement,” he said. "’Strategic targeting’ means we are focusing our attention on those employers and industries where workers are in the most danger of getting hurt, sick or killed.”

A year in, Michaels said the Severe Violator Enforcement Program is delivering the hoped-for results. “We're uncovering more systemic problems – sometimes in multiple worksites owned by the same employer, and sometimes across entire industries. By rooting out these systemic problems, we can eventually make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of workers.”

He reminded his audience that OSHA would continue its policy of reducing penalties for small employers and for “those acting in good faith.”