Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wages, Pollution and Worker Safety Regulation

Having recently presented our paper "Cole, M.A., Elliott, R.J.R. and Lindley, J. (2006). Dirty Money: Is there a Wage Premium for Working in a Pollution Intensive Industry? [Abstract] to a group of economists from the ONS and Health and Safety Executive we are always looking for real world examples to provide a little "real world" relevance.

Thanks for the Environmental-Economics guys for the hat-tip. I went to source as the Britney Spears stuff threw me.

Thus, from the Washington post comes an article "One Chemical at a Time" that discusses how:
An industry association, a labor union and a public health group recently settled a court case over a new standard for worker exposure to a cancer-causing chemical, hexavalent chromium. It was a rare example of agreement in worker-safety regulation.

More significantly, there is no sign that the single agreement will cure the paralysis that for years has crippled the process for setting "permissible exposure limits" for chemicals in the workplace.

Exposure limits for some 400 chemicals were set when OSHA was set up in 1971. Only about 20 have been reviewed and revised since, according to the agency. In some cases, including hexavalent chromium, the science underlying the rule hasn't been updated since the 1920s.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association , in a 2002 study of the problem, called it "a disservice to worker health that the majority of OSHA permissible exposure limits are based on recommendations that were made almost 30 years ago."

This means hundreds of companies operating in the shipyard, construction and chemical industries have only to adhere to woefully outdated standards for protecting workers from harmful chemical exposure.

In 1988, OSHA proposed a wholesale upgrade of 212 of the existing standards, as well as an additional 164 exposure limits for substances that never had been regulated. Industry groups sued, claiming the proposals were too stringent; the AFL-CIO sued, saying some weren't strong enough and monitoring plans were weak.

In our paper we ask - do workers in industries where exposure levels are the highest receive a wage premium for the additional health risks they are taking? You would hope so - suffice to say, there are many complications to what should be a simple story that means that in reality this may be far from the case.

Memo to self - use in the introduction to this paper.

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