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OSHA’s limitations predate the pandemic. The agency’s enforcement staff is so small that if OSHA sent inspectors to every workplace, it would take 162 years to visit them all. New regulations often take 10 or more years to be finalized. The maximum fine for a serious OSHA violation is $13,353 — petty cash to any large employer — and the criminal charge for the work-related death of an employee is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

The emergence of the online platform economy has allowed more businesses to abdicate responsibility for the people doing work on their behalf, since gig workers aren’t afforded the protections available to regular employees. In addition, several other groups — independent contractors, people working on small farms, eight million public sector workers in 24 states and the District of Columbia — have no legal right to a safe workplace. Temporary workers, who are at greater risk of injury and death than traditionally employed workers, also often fall between the cracks.

OSHA needs to adapt to the changing nature of the American labor market. It can take a cue from countries like Australia and New Zealand, which have embraced a new model called “duty of care,” in which companies must ensure that their activities do not endanger the health and safety of any worker, regardless of type.

As OSHA begins its sixth decade, it can make changes to improve the safety of American workplaces. A large majority of chemicals used in the workplace are unregulated, and in the past 20 years, the agency has established maximum allowable exposure levels for only three chemicals. OSHA needs a more nimble system for issuing requirements that describe how employers must limit exposures to chemicals, violence, excessive heat and other hazards.

While OSHA badly needs more inspectors, it will never have enough to visit all workplaces. To broaden its impact, the agency should augment the consequences for violating safety regulations in order to encourage employers to address hazards before OSHA inspects, and before workers get hurt. Publicizing safety violations can serve as an effective deterrent: One study found that OSHA would have to conduct 210 inspections to achieve the same amount of deterrence as a single news release detailing a severe safety violation.