We’ve known this for decades and now the journal Science has empirical proof that workplace safety and health inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) save lives, reduce employers’ costs for workers’ compensation and do not have any negative economic effect on the inspected businesses.
The authors of the study—three professors from the University of California, Harvard Business School and Boston University—say they set out to answer a simple question: Do government regulations kill jobs—as business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican lawmakers claim—or protect the public?
The authors studied 409 California industries that had high injury rates and were inspected by California OSHA from 1996 through 2006. It compared results at those businesses with 409 similar companies that were not inspected in that time period.
Inspected workplaces recorded 9.4 percent fewer injuries. The inspected firms also saved 26 percent on workers’ compensation costs in the four years following the inspection, compared with uninspected workplaces. On average, inspected firms saved an estimated $355,000 in injury claims and compensation for lost work over that period. What’s more, there was no discernible impact on the companies’ profits.
In addition, says study author and Harvard professor Michael Toffel, “We never saw any evidence of inspections causing harm.”
If OSHA inspections conducted in all 50 states are as valuable as the ones we studied, inspections improve safety worth roughly $6 billion to employers and employees, ignoring pain and suffering. The overall message of our research is that these inspections worked pretty much the way one would hope. They improved safety, and they didn’t cost firms enough that we could detect it.
AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario says the study:
tells us is that protecting your workers on the job and keeping them safe is good for workers but is also good for business. What's too costly is not addressing injuries and illnesses. We can't afford not to protect people.
BTW, here's another thing we've known for decades: No matter how much evidence there is that workplace safety and health rules and inspections are good for workers and employers, some will turn their backs on the facts and science. The National Association of Manufacturers, a group that rails against OSHA and job safety regulations, says the study’s findings are basically meaningless, though they do believe the world is round.