EVER SINCE the inspectors who enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 fanned out across the nation, businessmen and their organizations have been complaining bitterly about the inspector's work. The inspections, it is said, are too frequent and too disruptive of normal business routine. And the inspectors are too picky. So we suspect there were smiles all over the country Tuesday when the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA inspectors must obtain a search warrant before they can enter the premises of a business whose owner denies them voluntary admission. Business spokesmen hailed the court's ruling in ringing phrases - "a great victory," a "blow for freedom."
Maybe. But our guess is that as time goes on those smiles may disappear and the phrases may begin to ring hollow. The court's decision probably will complicate the paperwork of OSHA's staff, but it is unlikely to make much change in the inspections themselves. That is so because the grounds on which OSHA can get warrants are broad enough to allow its inspectors to obtain one in almost any situation. They will have to demonstrate only the reasonableness of the standards under which a particular business was picked out for inspection. The scope of what the OSHA officials can examine once they are inside the premises with a warrant will in most cases be no narrower than it has been.
We do not intend to imply that the court's decision is meaningless. It is a useful reminder that the government must play by the rules. And it will offer businessmen some protection against arbitrary or retaliatory selection for inspection. While that may eliminate a few of the complaints about OSHA, it does not get to the real objections of some businessmen - objections that have to do primarily with the rules the inspectors are trying to enforce. The court's decision does not effect those rules and OSHA can continue to enforce them until they are changed by administrative or legislative action.