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Published: October, 2011; Vol 8, Num 5

 

Seven Regulatory Myths We Need to Debunk

LIUNA General President
Terry O'Sullivan

“Thanks to many conservative groups and politicians, ‘regulation’ has become a dirty word in America,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “But we need to be clear: Government is vital in society, and regulation is absolutely necessary to keep the bad actors in line. Every Laborer and signatory employer needs to fight these myths. We need to affirm the value of sound, fair, enforced regulatory programs at both the state and federal levels.”

1. Regulations are very costly and will put companies out of business.

Although many regulations have little associated cost, most have some. However, before any regulation is adopted, its potential costs and benefits come under intense scrutiny. With input from all interested parties, after public hearings and with review by the Office of Budget Management (OMB) and the White House, the benefits and costs are weighed. A rule is adopted only when, overall, the benefits outweigh the costs. Even then, history shows that the projected costs often turn out to be much lower than expected as companies innovate inexpensive ways to comply. It is also important to note that regulations are imposed on all companies, so no one is competitively disadvantaged.

2. Regulations have no benefits.

While we can quibble over particular details of specific regulations, regulations in general are entirely beneficial. They protect workers, communities and the environment, allowing everyone the opportunity to enjoy longer and healthier lives. They minimize the risk of catastrophes that destabilize families. Recall the state of the environment before the EPA began regulating in 1970. Remember the epidemic of workplace injuries and illness that predated the establishment of OSHA. Regulations establish and ensure a “regular” way of doing things that is in society’s best interest.

3. Regulations just cause a lot of paperwork.

Most regulations do not involve much paperwork, but in any case, it is held to the minimum by an act of Congress: the Paperwork Reduction Act. Recordkeeping can be beneficial. By keeping track of injuries in a workplace, an employer can see patterns and address problems. Tracking maintenance prevents the use of faulty equipment. Sharing data with OSHA allows the agency to identify national trends and focus resources on pervasive solutions. Entering data on the OSHA 300 is not time-consuming.

4. Regulations are developed by activist government on a whimsy with no rationale or rational reason.

From the perspective of companies or people who want to be “free” to exploit workers however they please, anyone who attempts to regulate is an activist. But regulations are responses to real problems. The government officials who develop regulations – and the private sector professionals on whose research they rely – are simply experts in their field, people who investigate real problems and develop ways to address them.

5. Regulations are created at the drop of a hat.

As the Steps to a Standard chart in this issue makes clear, regulations take years to promulgate and undergo a long process of public input and review before they are adopted. Any party with a stake or interest in a proposed rule has ample opportunity to raise concerns and make suggestions. And all rules are subject to legislative oversight and legal action. Indeed, because the process is so arduous, many identified problems are never regulated; heat stress is an example. Other rules are never updated; for example, despite four decades of new information, OSHA is still enforcing exposure limits set in 1970 for over 400 chemicals.

6. Regulations are unneeded because business left to its own devices will protect workers.

These businesses have no reason to fear regulation since they go way beyond the minimums generally required by these rules. Regulations are established for that small minority of companies that do not care about meeting a minimum standard or would like to provide a safe workplace but have no idea of what to do. For those that need help, regulations are directive and beneficial. For the scofflaws, regulations make sure they do not shortchange worker safety to undercut responsible competitors.

7. Regulations kill jobs.

This argument insists that companies are not hiring because, due to regulatory compliance, they are strapped for cash. It is a deception. In fact, most companies are sitting on their cash right now, afraid to invest in a jittering economy. Jobs are not being created mostly because of a lack of demand caused by high unemployment. If demand were high, companies would expand to meet it, regardless of regulatory requirements. Rather than lament regulation while cutting government investment in the economy, Congress and the President should spur government purchase of goods and services. Regulations don’t kill jobs. Government austerity kills jobs. Regulations protect lives.

[Scott Schneider and Steve Clark]