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Improving Regulatory Effectiveness through Better Targeting: Evidence from OSHA


  • Johnson, Matthew S
  • Levine, David I
  • Toffel, Michael W


We study how a regulator can best allocate its limited inspection resources. We direct our analysis to a US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection program that targeted dangerous establishments and allocated some inspections via random assignment. We find that inspections reduced serious injuries by an average of 9% over the following five years. We use new machine learning methods to estimate the effects of counterfactual targeting rules OSHA could have deployed. OSHA could have averted over twice as many injuries if its inspections had targeted the establishments where we predict inspections would avert the most injuries. The agency could have averted nearly as many additional injuries by targeting the establishments predicted to have the most injuries. Both of these targeting regimes would have generated over $1 billion in social value over the decade we examine. Our results demonstrate the promise, and limitations, of using machine learning to improve resource allocation. JEL Classifications: I18; L51; J38; J8

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  • Johnson, Matthew S & Levine, David I & Toffel, Michael W, 2019. "Improving Regulatory Effectiveness through Better Targeting: Evidence from OSHA," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt1gq7z4j3, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:indrel:qt1gq7z4j3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ling Li & Perry Singleton, 2019. "The Effect of Workplace Inspections on Worker Safety," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 72(3), pages 718-748, May.
    2. Matias D. Cattaneo & Michael Jansson & Xinwei Ma, 2018. "Manipulation testing based on density discontinuity," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 18(1), pages 234-261, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andr's Gonz'lez Lira & Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, 2018. "Slippery Fish: Enforcing Regulation when Agents Learn and Adapt," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 2143R, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Mar 2021.
    2. Anja Bondebjerg & Trine Filges & Jan Hyld Pejtersen & Malene Wallach Kildemoes & Hermann Burr & Peter Hasle & Emile Tompa & Elizabeth Bengtsen, 2023. "Occupational health and safety regulatory interventions to improve the work environment: An evidence and gap map of effectiveness studies," Campbell Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 19(4), December.
    3. Juan Carlos Perdomo, 2023. "The Relative Value of Prediction in Algorithmic Decision Making," Papers 2312.08511,

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    More about this item


    Social and Behavioral Sciences; Public Policy;

    JEL classification:

    • C63 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Computational Techniques
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy
    • J81 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - Working Conditions
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation

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