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Sometimes we blithely discuss terms without thinking about their genesis or reason for being. The word "regulations" and its derivatives falls within this category.
My favorite definition of regulations is this: Regulations are rules, standards or principles administered and enforced by those without assets upon those who have assets. It seems nonsensical. Allow me to explain.
Who are those without assets and how do they receive the power of enforcement? In ancient times, those with a club could enforce their wills on those without a club ("Don't allow your sheep to drink from that brook over there or I will hit you over the head with this club"). We have the brook, which is untitled and without owner, the sheep, an asset of the party of the first part, and the one with the club, the party of the second part, who owns nothing but just doesn't like to have sheep around.
Governments, through force, created regulations and enforced them. The ancient Greeks and Romans were very good at this.
Modern day regulations are often the result of public opinion, which are then, by various mechanisms, codified and fit within a governmental system for review and enforcement.
The famous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 25 March 1911, in New York City is an excellent example of this. This fire resulted in 146 deaths and was largely the result of negligent or non-existent fire safety regulations. The public became outraged, standards were written and codified, politicians in the appropriate government bodies, voted to make them into enforceable regulations--indeed, laws--and public servants were assigned to inspect and enforce.
None of this had anything to do with who owned the assets in this case (the building owners and the Triangle Shirtwaist Company). The public's outrage and wrath set in motion a series of events that caused regulations to be developed and applied to any company that even remotely fit the model matching the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.
Review similar actions throughout the industrial era, and you will see many similar situations. All the regulations of the EPA, all the regulations of OSHA, all transportation regulations and on-and-on-and-on are the result of public pressure. At times this pressure came from infamous deeds that harmed people or their environment (rivers catching fire in Cleveland, Ohio). Other times this pressure came from perceived, perhaps not even proven, scenarios--Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" comes to mind.
Regulations growth has been a topic of late. Some parties think the number of regulations should grow almost without bounds. Others say, "Enough, the burden is too great or unacceptable." We indeed are willing to absorb some fatalities in order to keep regulations in check. This cannot be, you say.
You are wrong. Look at speed limits and the numbers of traffic deaths we experience every year. No doubt lower speed limits would reduce the number of traffic deaths--up to a certain point it is simple physics. Yet we are unwilling as a group body politic to accept what we perceive as excessive regulations in this area, despite the almost certain link to a certain annual quantity of human fatalities.
So, the next time you encounter a regulation, I challenge you to think about it a bit more than usual, exploring what might be its genesis and longevity. It may just make you a person who better understands working conditions with which you come in contact.
For safety this week, we know regulations play an important role here. Learn and apply them.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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