The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) is a primary federal law that was enacted by the Congress to ensure that every working man and woman in the United States is safe. The Act also ensures that organizations offer their workers healthy conditions and preserve human resources. Since it was signed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, the Act has helped in governing occupational health and safety in the private sector and federal government in the United States.
Before the introduction of the OSH Act, employees had very little or no protection at all whenever a mishap happened at the workplace. In 1893, Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act, which required employers to install and keep safety equipment in the workplace, but that act only applied to workers who were associated with the railroad industry.
Then, in 1910, the Congress established the federal Bureau of Mines to oversee mine safety, but the Bureau itself was not given any authority to regulate mine safety requirements. Having these laws in place too failed to positively impact the life of employees as accidents continued to happen. Plus, these laws provided less relief for the survivors of dead workers or for injured employees.
Employers continued to place road blocks in the implementation of a law which could help the employees in case of an injury or permanent disability. This was because it was much cheaper for employers to just replace a dead or injured worker rather than introduce compensations or safety measures.
Industrial production saw a record high in the United States during World War II, and after the end of it, the USA was hit by severe inflation which forced the labor unions to choose between wages or maintaining safety at work. The number of industrial mishaps and accidents also saw a record high during World War II. Almost 14,000 workers died each year from unsafe work practices and work place hazards, whereas a total of 2 million were permanently disabled or harmed.
The “chemical revolution” further added various hazards and threats to the life of workers by introducing a vast array of chemical compounds. These came with many side effects that were not known and not understood by the work force at all.
On April 14, 1969, President Richard Nixon introduced two bills into Congress were supposed to protect worker health and safety, but both of them were advisory rather than mandatory. The discussions about health and safety measures continued in the Congress till 1970. Finally, the union leaders were successful in pressuring members of the Congress to pass the OSHA which went into effect on April 28, 1971.
Administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Act’s main goal is to ensure that employees are provided with a hazard-free working environment in which an employee’s life is not at stake. Some of the dangers the OSH Act covers are exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.
Thanks to the Act, workers are finally able to concentrate on their work without worrying about endangering their lives.