Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Perry Singleton


OSHA, Regression Discontinuity, Service Quality, Worker Productivity, Workplace Inspections

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation comprises of three papers on occupational safety and health. Occupational injuries and illnesses are prevalent and costly. To reduce workplace injuries and the associated costs, the government uses workplace inspections and the associated penalties as the primary enforcement tool. This dissertation examines the direct effect of the government enforcement on workplace injuries as well as the indirect effect on labor market outcomes and firm dynamics.

Chapter 1 examines the effect of workplace inspections on workplace safety, product quality, and worker productivity in nursing facilities. The identification strategy exploits the nationwide Site-Specific Targeting (SST) plan of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The SST plan prioritized establishments for inspection if their injury case rates exceeded a threshold, generating a discontinuous increase in inspections at the SST threshold. The identification strategy exploits this discontinuous increase using a regression discontinuity design. The analysis sample is constructed by matching establishment-level data on injury case rates to OSHA inspection records and the quality measures and staffing levels from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). According to the data, the likelihood of inspections increases at the SST threshold by 32 percentage points. The discontinuous increase in inspections is associated with lower injury case rates of the nurses, but worse healthcare quality and lower nurse productivity. The results suggest improving occupational safety may come at the expense of service quality and worker productivity.

Chapter 2 (joint with Perry Singleton) examines the effect of workplace inspections on worker safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces safety regulations through workplace inspections. We estimate the effect of inspections on worker safety by exploiting a feature of OSHA’s Site Specific Targeting plan. The plan targeted establishments for inspection if their baseline case rate exceeded a cutoff. This generated a discontinuous increase in inspections, which we exploit for identification. Using the fuzzy regression discontinuity model, we find that inspections decrease the rate of cases involving days away from work, job restrictions, and job transfers in the calendar year immediately after the inspection cycle. We find no effect for other case rates or in subsequent years. Effects are most evident in manufacturing and less evident in health services, the largest two-digit industries represented in the data.

Chapter 3 examines the effect of financial penalties on workplace safety and worker productivity in coal mines. The variation of the financial penalties comes from the introduction of “flagrant” violations in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) of 2006. The flagrant violation may lead to a penalty of up to 0.22 million per violation. Using an event-study model, the results show that three to four years after the issuance of a flagrant violation, the injury rates of the miners decreased by a significant 20 percent and worker productivity decreased by 6 percent. The coal mines were 4 percentage points more likely to stop operating. The results suggest the monetary value of the productivity loss is 1.3 times as the costs saved from fewer injuries, which highlights the unintended costs of workplace safety regulations.


Open Access