Furthermore, the winning of worker protections on a company-by-company or industry-by-industry basis is a formidable challenge. Therefore, workers have often sought government—especially federal government—protections (Option IV), including protection for the very right to organize workers and bargain collectively. Regulatory strategies usually put the main burden of identifying and analyzing hazards and remedies on government officials rather than on workers.

Regulatory strategies to improve workplace safety and health have their own limitations. Some regulations face little resistance from those who are regulated; others are highly unpopular and provoke years of litigation. Policymakers are frequently challenged for not adequately weighing the expected benefits of regulation against the expected costs. Some regulations are relatively inexpensive and technically easy to implement, monitor, and enforce, but others are not. In any case, implementation of regulations as intended cannot be assumed.

The above discussion emphasizes strategies available to workers. Even when they are not actively sought by workers, employers, government officials, and others may take steps on their own initiative to identify and correct workplace hazards. For example, employers may easily become aware of real or potential hazards before workers recognize them and may take steps to reduce the hazard (and the liability that might result). Public health and other researchers may likewise identify hazards that affect both workers and members of the general community. They may then seek to publicize the hazards and find ways to eliminate or reduce them through voluntary action, scientific discovery, or technological innovation.


The first federal agency that focused on workplace safety was the U.S. Bureau of Mines, established in 1910 (CDC, 1999d). Its creation followed increasing attention to deaths in the workplace. For example, in 1906– 1907, the first systematic survey of workplace accidents was undertaken in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. It counted 526 deaths from such accidents in the county, including 195 among steelworkers.

Until 1970, states had the primary responsibility for regulating workplace conditions. The first state laws on worker safety date to 1837, and a few states had created inspection programs and started collecting injury and illness data before 1900 (OSHSPA, 1999). As they developed, state programs tended to rely more on education and consultation with employers rather than on formal enforcement of regulations backed by fines for employer violations (Mendeloff, 1978).

Not surprisingly, state laws and activities that regulate workplace health and safety were—and are—highly variable. Today, for example,

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