Inside the Black Box: How do OSHA Inspections Lead to Reductions in Workplace Injuries?*


  • *

    This work was supported by grant RO1-OH03895-03 from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Assistance with the data was provided by Joe DuBois, Bruce Beveridge, and Richard Fairfax at OSHA and John Ruser and Anthony Barkume at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A number of other OSHA staff provided comments on earlier drafts. We also appreciate the comments of three anonymous reviewers.

Address correspondence to John Mendeloff, 3E34 Posvar Hall, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15260; telephone: (412) 648-2651; fax: (412) 648-2651; e-mail:


We examine different models of employers’ responses to OSHA inspections. The “detection/correction” model assumes that responses are limited to correcting the violations that inspectors cite. The “behavioral shock” model assumes that firms respond by paying more attention to safety issues, even those unrelated to OSHA standards. We test whether some injury types are more affected by inspections than others, or by citations of particular OSHA standards. We conclude that, although citing particular standards can reduce injury types specifically related to those hazards, inspections also affect a wider range of injuries, suggesting a broader impact on managerial attention to safety.