Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
More than 90 million Americans spend their days on the job. Yet, until 1970, no uniform and comprehensive provisions existed for their protection against workplace safety and health hazards.
In 1970, Congress considered annual figures such as these:
- Job-related accidents accounted for more than 14,000 worker deaths;
- Nearly 21/2 million workers were disabled;
- Ten times as many person-days were lost from job-related disabilities as from strikes; and
- Estimated new cases of occupational diseases totaled 300,000.
In terms of lost production and wages, medical expenses and disability compensation, the burden on the nation's commerce was staggering. Human cost was beyond calculation. Therefore, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970 was passed by a bipartisan Congress "...to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources."
Under the Act, OSHA was created within the Department of Labor to:
- Encourage employers and employees to reduce workplace hazards and to implement new or improve existing safety and health programs;
- Provide for research in occupational safety and health to develop innovative ways of dealing with occupational safety and health problems;
- Establish separate but dependent responsibilities and rights for employers and employees for the achievement of better safety and health conditions;
- Maintain a reporting and recordkeeping system to monitor job-related injuries and illnesses;
- Establish training programs to increase the number and competence of occupational safety and health personnel;
- Develop mandatory job safety and health standards and enforce them effectively; and
- Provide for the development, analysis, evaluation, and approval of state occupational safety and health programs.
While OSHA continually reviews and redefines specific standards and practices, its basic purposes remain constant. OSHA strives to implement its congressional mandate fully and firmly with fairness to all concerned.
In all its procedures, from standards development through implementation and enforcement, OSHA guarantees employers and employees the right to be fully informed, to participate actively, and to appeal actions.
Who is covered
In general, coverage of the Act extends to all employers and their employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other territories under federal government jurisdiction. Coverage is provided either directly by federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved State program.
As defined by the Act, an employer is any person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States or any state or political subdivision of a state.
Therefore, the Act applies to employers and employees in such varied fields as manufacturing, construction, longshoring, agriculture, law and medicine, charity and disaster relief, organized labor and private education. Such coverage includes religious groups to the extent that they employ workers for secular purposes.
The following are not covered under the Act:
- Self-employed persons;
- Farms at which only immediate members of the farm employer's family are employed; and
- Workplaces already protected by other federal agencies under other federal statutes.
However, even when another federal agency is authorized to regulate safety and health working conditions in a particular industry, if it does not do so in specific areas, then OSHA standards apply.
The Act encourages states to develop and operate, under OSHA guidance, state job safety and health plans. Once a state plan is approved, OSHA funds up to 50 percent of the program's operating costs. State plans are required to provide standards and enforcement programs, as well as voluntary compliance activities, which are at least as effective as the federal program.