A presidential task force has proposed a new program of financial incentives to encourage compliance by hazardous industries with the government's occupational safety and health effort.
In a preliminary report, the Inter-agency Task Force on Workplace Safety and Health suggested a combination of penalties, tax revisions and direct federal assistance aimed at taking the profit out of violating health and safety rules.
The report reflected some of the ideas of President Carter's chief economic adviser, Charles L. Schultze, who has long aruged that economic incentives can be more effective than direct controls in making jobs safer and healthier.
"Conventional wisdom says that safety pays. The task force found it often does not, at least in monetary terms," said the staff report, which was released for public comment before submission to the task force co-chairmen, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and Office of Management and Budget Director James McIntyre.
Among the economic incentives proposed by the task force, which was appointed last year by President Carter to explore ways of augmenting rule-making by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, were:
A penalty system that would assess violators of safety rules a sum that "precisely equals the economic benefits of their noncompliance," rather than the present scale of fines of up to $10,000 for the most serious willful violations.
Federal tax law changes to bar employers from deducting any worker compensation costs that exceed the average cost for their particular industry. Other proposed changes would permit employers with low injury rates to deduct the average cost for their industry, even if their own cost is lower.
A "limited increase" in direct government aid, when economic conditions permit, to help small and marginal businesses in high-hazard industries to improve their safety investments.
In general, the task force proposed that OSHA concentrate resources on worksites with high-injury rates, focus on reducing injuries, spend less time citing violators, recognize those who have low-injury rates and allow more flexibility in hazard control.
Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union, announced it is urging employers to "boycott" OSHA by turning federal workplace inspectors away from their doors.
Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho), chairman of the ACU's "Stop OSHA" project, said several recent court rulings have strengthened the hand of employers' in resisting OSHA inspections.
"When confronted by an OSHA inspector, I urge all businessmen in the United States to consult their own attorneys, then turn the inspector away," said Hansen.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court said OSHA can be required to get a warrant for an inspection. More recently the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers much of the South, held that OSHA lacks authority to compel an employer to submit to an OSHA inspection.
"The law is on our side and it is time to stand up to OSHA and force an end to this bureaucratic nightmare," said Hansen.