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Speaking Out

January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17

Questioning OSHA’s Data

Your article (Almanac December 21) on the $450,000 grant Penn has received to study OSHA safety data presents an inaccurate picture of the safety and environmental problems we face in this country. You quote OSHA’s goal: to “better target scarce inspection resources to find the relatively few firms that may be causing most of the problems in their area, whether it
is workplace safety and health, environmental pollution, food safety or other areas.”

Relatively few firms? Really? In 2010, 46 coal miners were killed on the job because of company disregard for safety. The BP explosion killed 11 workers and endangered the lives and livelihoods of thousands in the Gulf region. Scores of companies trampled over each other in their race to reap huge profits extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale at the expense of safe drinking water.

The article begins by saying 50,000 people die every year from safety hazards at
work. In fact, company safety violations are a daily occurrence in most industries throughout this country. Meanwhile OSHA says that it can only afford to inspect one percent of workplaces every year.

Why not question why it is that OSHA can only afford to inspect one percent of workplaces? Why not refuse to accept “scarce inspection resources”? Why isn’t there enough money in the budget when it comes to protecting workers’ lives?

The Penn study will, in fact, serve to justify the notion of “scarce resources” when it comes to our safety on the job and our right to an environment free of pollutants. It will serve to legitimize the government’s pretense that it is doing something. It is not necessary to set up a commission to analyze data. Instead, just go ask miners, oil rig workers, and others who face unsafe conditions on the job. They know exactly what the problems are and what
to do about them.

—Susan Staggs, Production Coordinator, University Press

Response from Investigators

As co-principal investigators of the study mentioned in Almanac December 21, we appreciate Susan Staggs’ interest in our research and we certainly share her concern for workers’ well-being.  The objective of our empirical analysis is to develop targeting strategies that can enable OSHA and other agencies to use their resources more effectively in advancing health and safety goals. The precise level of funding given to agencies like OSHA is a vital policy question but one outside the scope of our research. Our effort to develop better targeting seeks to increase the odds that OSHA will find the most dangerous worksites before occupational accidents and illnesses occur, no matter how many resources OSHA has available to it.

—Cary Coglianese, Director, Penn Program on Regulation; Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, Law School

—Adam Finkel, Fellow and Executive Director, Penn Program on Regulation, Law School


Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. --Eds.


Almanac - January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17