Johnson's article included a graph from the National Safety Council showing declining fatality rates in the US. He graciously included an arrow to point out 1970, when the OSH Act was signed. His contention is that the trend was already on the declining and therefore creating OSHA was unnecessary. What he utterly failed to do was to try to account for why the line was dropping, and by extension, what impact OSHA may or may not have on the decline since 1970.
Too many people seem to believe that there is a magic bullet that will cure everything that's wrong with the world (or workplace safety and health in this case). Those people need to come to grips with the fact that "there is one and only one true answer" is a ridiculous position (I'm not talking spiritually, this isn't intended to be a religious discussion).
Think about it, is there one perfect food? No, there is no food that tastes perfect every time, is health, is absorbed by the body in perfect proportion to our needs, and doesn't cost anything. Ambrosia doesn't exist (bacon is the closest thing I've found).
Applied to occupational safety and health, there is no panacea for the ills of the workplace. Does enforcement work? Yes it does, for some employers. Does compliance assistance work? Yes it does, for some employers. Has OSHA made an impact? Yes it has, for some employers.
What Johnson's graph doesn't show is everything else that has been done in the past 100 years to protect workers. Here are just a few of the things that have happened that have shaped where we are today:
- 1908 - US government passes an employer's liability law that applies only to railroads, but leads to state workers compensation laws (44 states adopted laws between 1911 and 1921).
- 1910 - US Bureau of Mines is established.
- 1911 - Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire leads to the founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
- 1938 - Fair Labor Standards Act passed, which includes limitations on child labor.
And lest we forget, there are the huge strides in medicine, both in terms of traumatic injuries, as well as illnesses.
What does all of this mean? It means that OSHA is one piece, one brick, one slice, one (you pick the cliche) of a greater whole. How do we measure the size of that piece? I don't know, I keep asking on this blog and so far no one has given me a good answer.