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Enforcement critical for workplace safety, says ex-OSHA head

Strong enforcement of regulations for workplace safety is one of the most effective things the government can do to protect employees in California and across the United States, according to the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protection, he said programs that focus on voluntary employer compliance and participation produce only limited benefits for workers' safety in comparison to enforcement.

Workers in dangerous industries, factories or conditions face the greatest risk of injury or occupational disease. In many instances, these cases can be concentrated in certain companies, work sites or industries. On the other hand, voluntary employer programs often involve workplaces that were already quite safe and include wealthy companies with relatively well-paid staff. For other workers, however, government enforcement of strong standards and regulations for employee protection is the most critical in order to reduce the number of injuries in the workplace.

Initiatives like OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, which focuses specifically on individual employers, use a great deal of resources to verify that a company is eligible. On the other hand, enforcement initiatives target multiple employers and entire industries, giving workers much greater support in improving safety, the former OSHA head argued. While they affect a larger, broader group of people, regulation and enforcement can also be far more cost-effective as many voluntary participants already have safe work sites.

Employees who have been injured on the job have the right to compensation, even if an accident was not accompanied by violations of OSHA regulations. A workers' compensation lawyer can help injured employees through the filing process.

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