OSHA, which stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This act was signed into law on December 29, 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon. The administration was charged with safeguarding workers from death, injuries, and illnesses as a result of their actions on the job.
In 1970, there were nearly 14,000 fatalities, 2.5 million disabilities, and 300,000 illnesses all stemming from, or caused by, poor working conditions. The first priority of OSHA was to create a better track record for safety in the workplace with 10 regional and 49 area offices located in major U.S. cities. The primary goal at that time was to educate employers about compliance and enforcement of regulations in traditionally high-risk industries.
It wasn’t until April 28, 1971 that the law actually went into effect. This date is known as the official birth date of the act. George Gunther was the first Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. He served in this position until 1973.
The agency struggled for the first six years. In March of 1977, however, Eula Bingham, Ph.D., was brought in to head the agency so that it could focus on handling serious health hazards, simplifying rules for safety, and assisting small businesses with rules compliance. As a result, trivial regulations were eliminated and existing rules were clarified. Enforcement changed during this time period with more significant penalties being assessed for non-compliance.
Over the years there have been several landmark cases involving OSHA, including the Ferrol Barlow case in 1977. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Barlow was within his rights to refuse OSHA inspectors entry without a search warrant.
OSHA has done much to create safer working conditions for Americans. From the height of nearly 14,000 fatalities in 1970 to only 4,340 in 2009, it’s safe to say the program has been highly successful. Of course, there is still work to be done.
While it’s important for employers to be in compliance with OSHA regulations, there is nothing to say they shouldn’t go above and beyond these requirements. After all, a company’s most important assets are its workers. Therefore, it is vital to provide adequate safety services for your employees whether you’re in construction, manufacturing, the medical field, or any other industry.