Monday, November 10, 2008

Question from a visitor

"Should the government be responsible for imposing restrictions on dangerous occupations?"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Businesses, their insurance companies, and affected employees are in the best position to have the knowledge and self-interest to make the workplace safer. This is especially true if employers and their insurance companies routinely suffer large liability loses to compensate workers for on the job injury or death.

The worst on the job disaster of all time, the nuclear meltdown at Cherobyl was directly caused by safety regulation gone mad. They piled on so many stupid rules that nothing could get done without routinely ignoring regulations. The result was that the few actual life and death critical safety precautions were not followed.

Government tends to do a really bad job in regulating for several reasons. First, they tend to write endless lengthy and very complicated rules which often don't make much sense, and don't adapt to changing circumstances. Innovation is necessary to keep improving safety. You want things to keep changing as safer methods are developed, and not have rigid government regulations make it impractical to improve safety.

When government is in charge of regulating safety, you have a setup for industry to hijack the regulatory process so that they have undue influence by making political contributions (legal bribes), by outright corruption for example by paying off inspectors, or by regulators who are motivated to look the other way because they plan to take a job in industry when they leave government.

Also government is inherently political, and the political process tends to exaggerate minor problems while ignoring much more significant issues. This irrationality often greatly increases danger. For example, obsessing about the tiny cancer risk of asbestos caused it to be banned from use to protect the steel in skyscrapers (where it posed no cancer risk) from a common and much more serious danger – fire. The World Trade Center buildings collapsed on 9/11 because environmentalist craziness forced the needed asbestos fireproofing to be removed from those buildings. Another example, of government responding to political pressure to make a huge and tragic blunder is the outlawing of safe DDT for mosquito abatement which has caused millions of totally unnecessary deaths due to Malaria.

11/10/2008 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the government responsible for imposing restrictions on dangerous jobs?

11/17/2008 8:59 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Regulation of dangerous jobs

My opinion –

Private industry has frequently grossly failed to step up to its responsibilities on worker safety. Out of that failure, Government has found itself compelled (by demand of the citizenry – remember? "Government of the People, by the People, and for the People") to step in and impose safety standards in many industries.

The common and repeating pattern is that Government finds itself compelled to step in to establish regulations to address private sector abuses because the private sector fails to address those abuses itself.

Now, what trajectory regulations take once the Governmental regulatory structure has been created is a whole different discussion.

11/18/2008 3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was there any government safety regulation of the 1860's CPRR or UPRR construction or operation?

11/18/2008 3:34 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don Snoddy"
Subject: Regulation of dangerous jobs

My guess would be that it wasn't until the unions gained a strong foothold that work place regulations were put in place. I seem to remember that the United Mine Workers were a big push in industry wide safety regulations.


11/18/2008 2:25 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, Government Regulation of Workers' Safety and Health, 1877-1917 by Judson MacLaury, U.S. Department of Labor Historian.

11/18/2008 2:41 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Railroad Safety History

Death Rode the Rails. (Book Review)

11/18/2008 2:46 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Several factors come in to play.

1. Some individual companies have had greater regard for employee safety than other companies within the same industry. I personally believe the CPRR had a much higher regard for construction worker safety than the UPRR during original construction – but in common with all construction work of the time, it was still pretty hazardous.

2. Society's tollerance for what is acceptable danger has changed over time.

3. Society's consensus about what could be done about unacceptable levels of danger has changed over time.

Note that the Railroad Safety Acts of the 1890s and early 1900s come in the following context.

1. Great public agitation from at least the 1840s on (and quite possibly earlier) about the hazards common in railroading of the day, both for the traveling public and for railraod workers (link-pin couplers, lack of automatic air brakes, hours of service, collisions, etc).

2. Creation of some state Railroad Commissions to try and address some of these safety problems (as well as public concerns about rates), beginning with Massachusetts in 1869.

3. Creation of the ICC [Interstate Commerce Commission] in 1888 and the systematic documentation of railroad accidents and the causes there-of, clearly demonstrating the extent of the problems.

4. Finally in the late 1890s and later, legislative action to try and address the problems on a systematic National level, in the absence of such action by the railroad industry itself (legislation required automatic air brakes, automatic couplers, hours of service, etc). Note that some individual railroads had already moved to address some of these issues, but the industry as a whole had largely not done so, and many resisted as long as they could even after the legislation passed.

11/18/2008 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Modern "Worker Compensation" laws are another example of government caused perverse incentives interfering with on-the-job safety. Since workers aren't allowed to sue their employers for huge damages for preventable injuries, the employer's financial incentive to prevent injuries is greatly reduced to merely a cost/benefit calculation of the cost of preventing injuries versus the cost of medical care resulting from the injuries. While it is nice when injured workers' medical expenses are covered, wouldn't it be far better if the employer had the incentive to spent a little extra to innovate to make jobs safer so money was going to prevent injuries instead of paying for medical care of injured workers?

11/25/2008 5:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages