Voluntary Compliance Often Means No Compliance

Posted by | July 9, 2011 16:40 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

During the Bush Administration, a key component of the regulatory strategy was “voluntary compliance” or “compliance assistance.”  The thought was that businesses shouldn’t be in constant fear of inspection from an agency like OSHA.  Businesses wanted to comply but regulations were so complicated that it was impossible.  Hence the regulatory agency should help firms instead of punish them.  Programs like OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) were enhanced and inspections were defunded.  The result?

In the official report , inspectors didn’t mince words. They found instances in which “employees were told to ‘throw safety out the window’ and get the work done.”  Company managers had shown “deliberate, voluntary and intentional disregard to employee safety.” The inspectors tallied up a dozen violations , including two of the most serious kind that OSHA can allege.

Yet the federal government had for more than a decade considered the Tropicana plant a “model workplace,” and it still does. The plant is one of more than 2,400 across the country that has gained entry into OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs

The report goes on to demonstrate problems with voluntary programs across the federal government.  It’s not that business owners are bad.  A competitive marketplace puts unbelievable pressure on businesses to minimize costs.  In order to survive, businesses must overlook safety violations and pollution.  That’s why a market economy needs regulation.  Relying on business owners’ best intentions sounds good but doesn’t work.  (Coincidentally, another report came out yesterday about relying upon corporate self-policing in the financial sector.  That voluntary program also seems to be working well).

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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