Can regulations and job creation coexist?

When listening to some politicians talk about occupational safety, it often comes down to waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On Capitol Hill, you won’t find a congressman or senator talking negatively about safety. But while some take a safety-at-any-cost approach, others are more nuanced and often throw one word around when talking safety: “but.”

A recent video from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) provides a good example. Posted on the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s website Aug. 31, the video stresses the need for job creation, which is obviously on a lot of people’s minds.

Walberg claims regulations hurt job growth and hinder the economy – a stock quote many Republicans have been using lately. And when he talks about safety and regulations, he tosses that magic word around.

“It’s not that we want to do away with necessary regulations, but those regulations that are unnecessary or are this point in time really hurtful for expanding our job opportunities and making sure people are employed,” he said “Let’s make safe, but let’s also make opportunity for jobs in the future.”

It’s not that all regulations are bad, he says, just the ones that hinder job expansion. Let’s make workplaces safe, he says, as long as we can also create more jobs.

Taken separately, it’s all perfectly reasonable: Let’s create jobs. Let’s make workplaces safe. But taken together, it leaves the impression that one must be sacrificed to some extent for the other. It conjures the notion that regulations hinder job creation in a way that a lack of demand does not – or that creating a safe work environment means an employer cannot hire additional, needed staff.

However, assistant OSHA administrator Jordan Barab has said, there is evidence that regulations actually help the economy, and reports (.pdf file) continue to highlight how regulations protect worker safety and health.

This past July, OSHA administrator David Michaels said companies can’t afford waste in a globally competitive marketplace. Certainly an occupational injury as a result of poor workplace safety would create more problems than complying with regulations.

Put another way, what would employers rather do – spend money on training and personal protective equipment, or deal with the costs of fines, workers’ compensation and retraining in the event of an incident?

“Workplace-safety regulations and vigorous enforcement not only save lives, they save profits and revenues that companies can use to reinvest in the American worker,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in an op-ed published Labor Day in the Press of Atlantic City.

Are all regulations perfect? Absolutely not, and we should work to improve them. But it is disingenuous to suggest – as Walberg seems to – that rolling back regulations will free up costs for employers and solve this country’s job crisis. All it will do is lead to more workers being hurt or worse on the job.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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