The Public Interest

Government comes to the workplace: an assessment of OSHA

Albert L. Nichols & Richard J. Zeckhauser

Fall 1977

CONGRESS passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) of 1970 in order “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions.” Performance has fallen far short of ambition. Indeed, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the agency created by executive order to enforce the OSHAct, has become a prominent symbol of misguided Federal regulation. It accomplishes little for occupational safety and health, yet imposes significant economic costs. As we shall argue, OSHA’s failings to date should not be surprising since it focused on the wrong problem, safety on the job instead of occupational health, and then employed the wrong tool, direct regulation rather than an incentive approach.

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