Email this review


A first-rate critique of the fledgling, already-foundering Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that offers an alternative way to promote job safety in the marketplace. OSHA, Bacow (Urban Studies and Planning, MIT) points out, is charged with setting standards and fining those found to be breaking them--an impossible task given the number and variety of workplaces in the U.S. Its predicament--and that of other such agencies--he attributes to the penchant for solving problems by ""command and control"" regulation, instead of by creating incentives for improvement. Politically, this approach provides ""the appearance of immediate action"" (among other things); socially, it reflects the general weakness for ""a single 'correct' solution"" (also among other things). But in practice it is doomed: witness the few scattered OSHA successes. In the area of occupational safety and health, Bacow observes, the problem of monitoring some five million diverse workplaces (with 1,560 federal and 1,5001,800 state inspectors) is compounded by ignorance of the effects of occupational hazards (e.g., chemical exposure), by the lack of criteria for reasonable cost or risk, by the difficulty of altering the behavior of a great many organizations and vast numbers of people. So he advocates, in place of centralized regulation, a joint effort by the public and private sector based on collective bargaining. Three case studies--of the UAW, the United Steelworkers, and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters--illustrate different ways in which safety has been an issue in contract negotiations, with correspondingly different results; and Bacow goes on to suggest, in the light of these findings, how other unions might proceed. He acknowledges the difficulties--beginning with the fact that only 28 percent of American workers belong to unions. But that does not nullify the wisdom of making OSHA a goad, not a watchdog; of tailoring the remedies to the specific problems; of giving those most affected a role in determining and enforcing standards. The book is useful for its explanation of the workings of OSHA and invaluable for its overall insights into the regulatory process.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: MIT Press