Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 16
National Differences

WHEN health and safety inspectors enter factories in Sweden and the United States, they come to enforce pretty much the same set of rules. They look for ladders that are unsafe, floors that are slippery, guardrails that are missing, and fumes that are toxic. Many of the standards developed by the two countries to govern these matters are not merely similar, they are identical.1

But what the inspectors do in these factories is very different. The American inspectors, all employees of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), tend to "go by the book"--if they see a violation of the rules they write up a formal citation. If the violation is serious, a fine is mandatory and the inspector does not hesitate to levy it. Even if the violation is not serious, the inspector may impose a fine. If the employer does not correct the violation within a specified number of days, further penalties may be assessed. The OSHA inspectors believe that this is the way it must be: When Steven Kelman interviewed them they said that most employers would ignore any violations unless they were penalized. "Teeth are the only way to impress management," one inspector said; without the power to impose penalties employers would "laugh at you when you came into the plant," another remarked.2 Most American inspectors did not take into account the economic condition of the firm; whether or not it could afford the cost of correcting violations wasn't their concern.3 OSHA managers reinforced these attitudes with a lengthy field manual that prescribed in great detail every step in a workplace inspection; with the compilation of data on every aspect of the inspection; and by using these figures to compare the productivity of their inspectors (being "productive" meant making a lot of inspections and issuing a lot of vio

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