What We Learn in Troubled Times: Deregulation and Safe Work in the New Economy

Source: Susan Bisom-Rapp, Wayne Law Review, Vol. 55, 2009

From the abstract:
Reviews of how federal agencies functioned during George W. Bush’s presidency reveal many instances of regulatory capture by industry. One prototypical example is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for occupational safety and health (OSH) standard setting and enforcement. In contrast, a broad array of stakeholders during the Bush years gave good marks to an entirely separate agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which conducts research and develops recommendations to prevent workplace injury and illness.

By reviewing the disparate performance of OSHA and NIOSH during the Bush administration, this article sheds light on the OSH challenges facing employees in the new economy, highlights better ways of protecting workplace safety and health, and identifies sustainable practices worth preserving and strengthening. To those ends, the academic debates surrounding new governance scholarship and responsive regulatory techniques provide a backdrop. Situating the safety agencies’ recent records within those debates reveals the pitfalls of traditional and new approaches to regulation and the synergies between them. To improve the safety and health of America’s increasingly vulnerable workers, both approaches are required but must be linked. Yet the necessary links between them may be more diffuse than many scholars assume. In other words, it is not necessary or advisable for all cooperative, reflexive, and participatory programs to be housed in traditional regulatory agencies. During periods when, as in the last administration, deregulation is ascendant, agencies that lack enforcement powers may be better positioned to obtain substantive results than are their regulatory counterparts.

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