We long been hearing moans and groans from many in the business community about how OSHA rules stiffle the economy, or worse, from employers who insist that following OSHA rules will cost them jobs.   The sad truth is the exact opposite: failing to meet basic health and safety standards can shutter the doors of your business.   Just look at what was announced by ConAgra last week about their Slim Jim plant near Garner, NC, the site of massive explosion in June that killed three workers.  They are laying-off more than 300 workers.  In the words of the USW’s Jim Frederick:

“The old myth: if we make the boss follow OSHA rules it will cost us jobs.  Or is it the inverse?:  if we don’t make the boss follow OSHA rules it will cost us jobs.”

The GarnerCitizen.com reports in “ConAgra plans layoffs”:

“The company says the job cuts are directly connected to the June 9 accident.  ‘It was a very difficult decision,’ company spokesman Dave Jackson said.  ‘We didn’t want to do it, but at the same time we can only produce about half of the product that we did prior to the accident.’  The company met in a town hall meeting with 600 employees [on] Sept. 16 to inform them of the layoffs.  Since the accident, the company has been paying all employees who are unable to work for 40 hours a week. Those payments stopped, however, as of Monday, Sept. 21.”

That part of the story is terrible enough, but the full toll of the disaster is worse still.  The GarnerCitizen. com reports that 70 workers—-70 workers—are still off-work because of the injuries they suffered in the June 9 explosion.   The direct cost of those disabilities are huge, say nothing of the social and other indirect costs for the workers and their families.  

I hope under the new regime at OSHA and OIRA, that the broadest definition of cost for failing to prevent deaths and disability is built into the agency’s regulatory flexibility analyses.  They can look to the work of  Professor Les Boden (here, here, here), Professor Al Dembe here, and others for insight on “costs” of work-related injuries that don’t make it into typical cost-benefit calculations.  This includes: being forced out of a chosen trade, demands on family members to cut back on school or paid work to care for the injured or take on more household duties, uncompensated injury-related costs, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Better yet, we should figure out a simple mechanism for these 70 injured ConAgra workers and injured workers from around the country to share their own data with OSHA on the costs to their family of this disaster.   Those are economic and social burdens that will drawf the other side of the traditional cost equation.