In the annals of job health and safety, 1974 was a signal year. It produced an epidemic of occupational liver cancer associated with vinyl chloride disclosure of a plan to soft-pedal federal regulation of industrial hazards in return for contributions to the 1972 Nixon reelection campaign, and the publication of a brace of exposes decrying the human toll taken by workplace perils. These events furnish hard evidence that the bright hopes raised by passage of the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 remain far from fulfillment.
In the search for reasons for this ostensible failure, two books present appropriate starting points. Paul Brodeur's Expendable Americans and Rachel Scott's Muscle and Blood illumine patterns of indifference and reckless disregard toward job health and safety by both government and industry. The authors focus primarily upon the years following enactment of the 1970 law. Fired by indignation in the muckraking tradition, the efforts of Brodeur and Scott seek to attract attention to a social issue that, despite its awful dimensions, has never enjoyed a prominent place on the public agenda. The books complement each other nicely, with Brodeur's etching in great detail the development and enforcement of federal standards regulating worker exposure to asbestos dust and Scott's weaving a patchwork of vignettes that stress the human side of occupational disability. Yet both books are flawed, not only as exercises in popular journalism but also in their contribution toward understanding the obstacles to significant reductions in job accidents and diseases. They shrink from some of the really difficult, complex problems and fail to analyze or even suggest alternative strategies for achieving acceptably safe and healthful working conditions.
This review will attempt a critical assessment of Expendable Americans and Muscle and Blood, elaborating on one of the critical dilemmas that the books only lightly touch upon and commenting briefly on some sources for possible improvement in the workplace environment. No definitive solutions will be offered; indeed, none may exist. However, this review will suggest some action that may be taken to pierce the veil of neglect that has long shrouded the protection of worker health and safety.
27 Stan. L. Rev. 1345-1360 (1975) (reviewing Paul Brodeur, Expendable Americans (1974), and Rachel Scott, Muscle and Blood (1974))
Scholarly Commons Citation
Page, Joseph A., "Toward Meaningful Protection of Worker Health and Safety" (1975). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1154.