The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, is an agency of the United States Department of Labor that enforces workplace regulations to protect the health and safety of all workers. It was first established to develop and enforce governmental standards for businesses and non-governmental organizations in order to prevent injury or sickness on the job. Although it has faced considerable opposition over the last 40 years, OSHA continues to act as the watchdog to protect workers.
The momentum for this piece of legislation began with a group of officials in the U.S. Department of Labor that were frustrated by the limited capacity and authority of the federal government to regulate safety conditions in the workplace. By 1968, these officials had a major breakthrough when President Lyndon B. Johnson included a bill concerning workers’ safety. He proposed legislation to allow workplace inspections and research to identify potential hazards. After fierce opposition from major business groups, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law on December 29, 1970. OSHA came into existence in 1971 when the Secretary of Labor created the department to administer the various aspects of the bill.
During the 1970s, OSHA established new standards to reduce injuries, prevent illness, and ensure safety, the first of which reduced the use of asbestos to protect workers from lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Over the next decade further standards were set to protect construction workers, decrease exposure to harmful chemicals, and preserve hearing. Since its inception, OSHA has expanded its reach and created important legislation to protect agricultural and maritime workers, prevent exposure to blood-borne pathogens, and many other regulations that hold businesses and organizations accountable for the health and safety of their employees. With the advancements in technology, OSHA also established a website in 1995 and phone-fax complaint line in 1996 to expedite the resolution of unhealthy or unsafe conditions.
In addition to protecting workers’ health and safety, OSHA also sought to provide training, outreach, and education to build partnerships and strive for continual improvement. A major part of this mission was implemented through the founding of the OSHA Training Institute, which instructs both inspectors and the general public.
OSHA and its partners have employed a massive workforce including 2,100 inspectors, investigators, physicians, educators, engineers and support staff to enforce federal regulations, respond to complaints, and identify new potential hazards. There are over 200 offices across the country that not only protect workplace standards, but also offer technical assistance and consultation programs to ensure universal compliance with health and safety codes.
Importance of OSHA
OSHA is dedicated to protecting the nations’ workforce and improving working conditions. The department is committed to public service and is driven by the need to protect each individual from falling victim to corporate interests. The research division continually works to identify new threats to worker health and safety while inspections aim to achieve universal compliance.
Since OSHA was first established, fatalities in the workplace have declined by 62% and rates of occupational injury and illness have been reduced by 40%. Simple changes such as educating employees about potential hazards, proper storage and containment of hazardous waste, and proper safety equipment ensure workers’ health and safety while improving the overall productivity. Safety equipment, such as fall protection systems has been especially important for improving safety for construction workers, which has been one of the most dangerous jobs. These systems are responsible for saving countless lives and have helped businesses avoid costly settlements and lawsuits. While OSHA was created to protect workers’ health and safety, it truly benefits both sides from potential risks associated with workplace injuries and illnesses.