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Workplace safety regulations

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Can anyone point me to a thread discussing government involvement in regulating safety in private businesses? I haven't been able to find quite what I'm looking for yet and am not sure if it's been discussed. I'm in an argument with someone over this and need to solidify my position a bit.

Thank you--sorry if this request is in the wrong place!

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Hi AisA :)

Well, it didn't start out on the basis of workplace safety regulations exactly. It started out on the topic of smoking being banned in some cities. My stance was that an employer should be able to make the decision whether or not employees and customers can smoke based on his private property rights. He likened my position to a position in which the employer should not be subject to government regulation of equipment safety. He gave the following example (I hope I can post this--I don't think it's a terms of service violation to post already-public, non-copyrighted material. Let me know if I'm wrong and I'll fix it.)

I worked two summers on a ginseng farm, it was seasonal work in an area with very high unemployment. Among other things, iit involved biweekly spraying of the fields with a variety of pesticides and fungicides.

There were specific regulations that the employer had about safety equpiment we were required to wear, etc.

Your argument seems to be parallel to an argument that there should not have been such safety regulations. My employer should have taken whatever precautions they felt were necessary and/or expedient. Any potential employees who did not want to risk being exposed (if the employer chose to scrimp on safety, which greatly increased cost) should simply have chosen not to be employed.

Is this is a fair application of your position?

My thinking is that yes--the employees could have chosen not to be employed at this place. The business is private property and as such, the employees don't have a right to that job. It is a voluntary contract and if they don't care for the terms, such as equipment they'll be required to use/not use, they can exercise their ability to turn the job down.

This is (vaguely) similar to the context in which an employee is free to turn down a job where the owner allows his employees to smoke in the office. In either case it's completely irrelevant whether there is high unemployment in the area because their "need" of a job is not a claim on the employer's resources.

Can someone please shoot me down on either issue? Also, if the business owner were to tell workers that the equipment they were using was safe when he/she knew it was not, that would be problematic. But I'm assuming both the workers and the employer have complete information about the safety versus non-safety of the equipment.

I should probably just drop the entire argument and leave that forum. This one person that I quoted above has been very polite (despite disagreeing with me) and simply is looking for information regarding my view, so I'd like to finish replying to him. Others have chosen to not really debate, but instead to repeatedly call me "grotesquely arrogant" and a "horrible" person :) So perhaps I'll duck out after dealing with this one person.

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Apprentice, I agree with your moral argument. A job is a relationship between an individual that wishes to sell his time/effort and an employer that wishes to purchase it. The terms and conditions of that relationship should be arrived at voluntarily, i.e. with neither side having the right to force terms on the other or get a third party -- such as the government -- to force terms on the other.

In a free market, there is considerable pressure on a business to maintain a safe environment. Accidents are expensive, not just in terms of medical bills for employee treatment but in terms of lost time, interruption of work, etc.

Actually, the existence of government safety regulations makes workplaces less safe. Here's why. Every business has a limited amount of resources. The greater and more stringent the regulations -- and the greater the penalties for being found in non-compliance -- the greater the pressure to insure compliance. Thus the focus becomes, "Is this job in compliance with regulations?", instead of, "Is this job safe?". The two are definitely NOT one and the same. Who is in the best position to understand what makes a job safe? The company and the workers, NOT a federal agency that tries to promulgate regulations for every kind of industry and business in the country.

Study after study has found that the single greatest cause of accidents is employee negligence. There is only one party that can solve that.

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Apprentice, I too agree with your moral argument.

For more information I refer you to an article on government regulation that you can find in "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" by Ayn Rand. It's entitled "The Assault on Integrity" and it's by Alan Greenspan. It's clear, concise in presenting your same basic argument.

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Actually, the existence of government safety regulations makes workplaces less safe. Here's why.

AisA---Thank you--I enjoyed your explanation to the reasons behind this :lol:

Andrew--Thank you for the reference--I appreciate it. I've been trying to get ahold of that book for a couple of weeks and it's not at any local bookstore I guess. I should try an online source as it's one of the next on my list. Thanks again!

Everyone else--Still, if you can shoot me down, I'd love to hear it. I don't want to live with contradictions or errors in logic, so if you have anything to say, I'm inviting criticism ;)

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Moreover, mandated government safety regulations destroy the market for private safety certifications. When consumers/employees are assured (by the government) that their goods/jobs are safe - when their safety is handed to them on a silver platter at another's expense, they have no incentive to protect themselves the rational way: the free market. There is no incentive for safety certification companies to exist and there is no incentive for anybody to buy their services which in a free market tend strongly toward quality. When safety becomes a "right" - a claim on others - it ceases to be one's responsibility and therefore it ceases to be rational.

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Moreover, mandated government safety regulations destroy the market for private safety certifications.  When consumers/employees are assured (by the government) that their goods/jobs are safe - when their safety is handed to them on a silver platter at another's expense, they have no incentive to protect themselves the rational way: the free market.

Exactly. As I mentioned on another thread a couple of days ago, the no-speed-limit Autobahns in Germany are safer than the roads in other countries.

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Thank you y_feldblum and CF---I appreciate the input!

I was just thinking of similar issues in incentives for private certification of food quality and government-mandated labeling the other day, but hadn't drawn the parallel to this situation until you brought this up. Another issue for another thread, I suppose ;)

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Apprentice, another free-market force at work here involves insurance companies. If a business wishes to carry liability insurance -- and most do -- the insurance company will insist on its own inspections and standards.

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y_feldblum--

That's strange--I've already written this reply once, and it didn't show up. I've had that happen a couple of times now. (I should probably take GC's very good advice and write my replies in a word processor first. Then I could save them and simply copy and paste in these situations as well as having my spelling and grammar checked automatically :blink:)

Anyway, thank you for the links. This is just what I was thinking about earlier, except in terms of low carb and low fat labeling instead of organic foods. There's currently a particular "consumer advocacy" group that is exerting political pressure to force labeling on chain restaurants. I will start that as another thread, though--I've noticed a particular dislike of thread drift here :(

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