Economic regulation, work relations, and accident rates in the United States motor carrier industry
This study investigated the relationship between firm economic well-being and preventable accident rates in the U.S. motor carrier industry between 1975 and 1986. In 1980 the U.S. motor carrier industry was deregulated which produced highly competitive market conditions. Firms facing such conditions were required to devise coping strategies if they were to survive in this new highly competitive business environment.
This research suggests that financially weakened firms trying to survive in a deregulated environment would be forced to rely on cost cutting strategies which are inherently threatening to workplace safety. However, the ability to implement such strategies would be limited at firms where union contracts restricted management from modifying work rules. As such, not all motor carriers were expected to exhibit the same relationship between firm economic well-being and preventable accident rates.
Multiple regression analysis was utilized to assess the relationship between carrier economic well-being and preventable accident rates at two points in time, pre-deregulatory 1975-76 and post-deregulatory 1985-86. Three major hypotheses were tested. First, the economic well-being of the firm was hypothesized to have a greater effect on the firm's preventable accident rate after deregulation than before deregulation. Second, the economic well-being of the firm was hypothesized to have less effect on preventable accident rates for union firms than for other types of firms. Third, changes in the effects of firm economic well·being on preventable accident rates were hypothesized to differ less across time for union firms than for other types of firms. As expected, union firms and owner operator firms exhibited a stronger relationship between fum economic well-being and preventable accident rates following deregulation than prior to its passage. However, the regression analysis for nonunion firms produced unexpected results. Nonunion fums exhibited a weaker relationship between fum economic well-being and preventable accident rates in the post-deregulatory model than was the case in the pre-deregulatory model. Possible explanations for this unexpected finding are discussed.
In addition, this study challenges a widely accepted approach to analyzing workplace safety problems. That approach advocates focusing on the inappropriate behavior of specific individuals when firms are confronted with deteriorating workplace safety conditions rather than investigating organizational level variables which are routinely associated with unsafe working environments. This distinction is important because merely removing isolated individuals who are thought to compromise workplace safety will not provide a meaningful remedy if, in fact, such unsafe behavior is a response to managerial pressures. This study suggests that such pressuring would trigger :unsafe behavior in almost any individual confronted with similar circumstances.