We all know OSHA, but how familiar are you with its history?
History of OSHA
Prior to 1970, workplace safety basically didn’t exist. In the years leading up to its establishment, workplace injuries and deaths increased in both number and severity. In fact, disabling injuries increased by 20% during the 1960s, and 14,000 workers were dying on the job yearly, making the issue more and more difficult to ignore. Harrison A. Williams Jr., a New Jersey Senator and advocate for workplace safety, called attention to the subject even more by saying, “The knowledge that the industrial accident situation is deteriorating, rather than improving, underscores the need for action now.”
House Representative William A. Steiger worked for the passage of a bill. “In the last 25 years, more than 400,000 Americans were killed by work-related accidents and disease, and close to 50 million more suffered disabling injuries on the job,” he pointed out during the debate. “Not only has this resulted in incalculable pain and suffering for workers and their families, but such injuries have cost billions of dollars in lost wages and production.”
On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), also known as the the Williams-Steiger Act in honor of the men who fiercely advocated for its passage. With the OSH Act, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.
Known initially as “the safety bill of rights,” the OSH Act established three permanent agencies:
- the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Labor Department to set and enforce workplace safety and health standards;
- the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to conduct research on occupational safety and health; and
- the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an independent agency to adjudicate enforcement actions challenged by employers.
Today, OSHA continues to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
In roughly half a century, OSHA, its partners, and the efforts of employers, health and safety professionals, unions, and advocates have had a dramatic effect on workplace safety. In 2020, worker deaths in America averaged about 13 a day, as opposed to 38 a day in 1970. Likewise, worker injuries and illnesses have also decreased from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1973 to 2.7 per 100 in 2020.