The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by President Richard M. Nixon on December 29, 1970. Its mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths by issuing and enforcing rules (called standards) for workplace safety and health. This same Act also created the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as a research agency whose purpose is to determine the major types of hazards in the workplace and ways of controlling them.
OSHA's statutory authority extends to most nongovernmental workplaces where there are employees. State and local government workers are excluded from Federal coverage, however, states operating their own state workplace safety and health programs under plans approved by the U.S. Department of Labor cover most private sector workers and are also required to extend their coverage to public sector (state and local government) workers in the state. Section 2 (11) of the OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own state OSH programs.
OSHA regulations [29 CFR Part 1956] also permit states without approved plans to develop plans that cover only public sector workers. In these states, private sector employment remains under Federal OSHA jurisdiction. Twenty-two states and territories operate plans covering both the public and private sectors and four states - Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands - operate public employee only plans.
OSHA was widely criticized in its early years for confusing, burdensome regulations. A good deal of conflict came about because businesses were expected to retrofit guards and other safety devices on existing equipment and to implement other hazard controls, often at considerable expense.
With time, manufacturers of industrial equipment have included OSHA-compliant safety features on new machinery. Enforcement has become more consistent across jurisdictions, and some of the more outdated or irrelevant rules have been repealed or are not enforced.
During the Carter administration, OSHA, under the leadership of University of Cincinnati toxicologist Eula Bingham, began to concentrate more on health hazards, such as toxic chemicals. With the Reagan and Bush I administration came a backlash against OSHA enforcement and rulemaking, although several important rules were issued including hazard communication (right to know) and bloodborne pathogens.
The Clinton administration began a reorganization of OSHA's approach, focusing more on "stakeholder" statisfaction through compliance assistance. When the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, one of their main goals was the weakening of OSHA. Republican bills aiming at the weakening of the agency's enforcement ability were stopped, but other legislation passed, such as the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996that put further hurdles on OSHA's ability to issue protective standards.
The Republican congress also declared war on OSHA's effort to issue an ergonomics standard, even though the process was begun under the Bush administration. Ergonomic injuries (also known as musculoskeletal injuries) such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrom, account for 1/3 of all serious injuries suffered by American workers. After ten years of Republican attempts to stop OSHA from issuing the rule, the federal ergonomics standard was issued in November 2000. The Republican-controlled Congress repealed the standard in March 2001 and the repeal bill was one of the first major pieces of legislation signed by the newly elected George W. Bush. The Bush administration essentially shut down OSHA's standard making process and replaced it with voluntary "Alliances" and other programs.
Here are some of the major changes in industrial safety brought about by OSHA:
- Guards on all moving parts - By 1970, there were guards to prevent inadvertent contact with most moving parts that were accessible in the normal course of operation. With OSHA, use of guards was expanded to cover essentially all parts where contact is possible.
- Permissible exposure levels - Maximum concentrations of chemicals stipulated by law for chemicals and dusts
- Personal protective equipment - broader use of respirators, gloves, coveralls, and other protective equipment when handling hazardous chemicals; goggles, faceshields, ear protection in typical industrial environments
- Lockout/Tagout - In the 1980s, requirements for locking out energy sources in an "off" condition when performing repairs or maintenance
- Confined space - In the 1990s, specific requirements for air sampling and use of a "buddy system" when working inside tanks, manholes, pits, bins, and similar enclosed areas
- Hazard Communication - Also known as the "Right to Know" standard, it was issued as 29CFR1910.1200 in November 25, 1983 (48 FR 53280, requires developing and communicating information on the hazards of chemical products used in the workplace.
Process Safety Management - Issued in 1992 as 29CFR1910.119 in an attempt to reduce large scale industrial accidents. It is often referred to as PSM) 
Last updated: 08-18-2005 13:00:40