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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, was created by Congress in 1970 to safeguard the health of America's workforce and provide a safe work environment. Employers' efforts at OSHA safety compliance can be seen virtually everywhere. For example, fire safety stations can be found in the majority of new office buildings, and many thousands of older office buildings have been retrofitted with state-of-the-art fire safety stations. Eyewash stations are visible in facilities where there's even a remote possibility of a splashing injury, and professional quality first-aid stations are provided by most employers.
The idea of industrial safety first caught the attention of the American public in 1905, with the magazine serialization of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which depicted the conditions faced by the average American workingman in horrifying detail. The Jungle was about working in slaughterhouses, and so the official attention paid to the issue concentrated on food, and shortly thereafter, pharmaceuticals, with the passage of the pure food and drug laws of the early 20th century. Safety and health issues in other industries were covered by a patchwork of national and state legislation and regulation, and no comprehensive effort was mounted to address the problems surrounding industrial safety and health until passage of OSHA in 1970.
An agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA is charged with preventing injuries and illnesses related to work, and especially with preventing occupational fatalities. It regularly issues enforceable standards for safety and health in the workplace. In its early years, it regularly encountered controversy in its attempts to make the American workplace safer, and employers complained bitterly about the costs they were expected to assume in achieving OSHA safety compliance. These costs often included such things as retrofitting existing equipment and entire work areas to bring them into compliance with newly-developed best practices standards. Over time, however, OSHA safety compliance has become an accepted part of doing business, and the equipment sold to employers is routinely tested and certified as OSHA-compliant.
OSHA regulations cover most American workplaces, and are exceptionally thorough. One of the OSHA safety standards with which many Americans are familiar is the Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS. With rare exceptions, every substance used in a workplace must be documented by an MSDS, an information sheet containing important information about the substance, including the first aid to be taken upon exposure. These sheets are required to be maintained by the employer and made available to all employees. In nearly all cases, though, the suppliers of these substances have prepared an MSDS for every compound they sell, and will provide them at no cost to the purchaser.
Despite OSHA regulations, industrial accidents still occur, and sometimes on a large scale. These often happen because OSHA standards and regulations have been ignored; for example, despite many warnings about the dangers of dust accumulation in the air in industrial facilities, several dust explosions have occurred in the United States since the turn of the century, highlighting the need for increased attention to this dangerous situation. While OSHA has become an accepted part of the American industrial environment, some employers still try to avoid the costs of OSHA safety compliance, sometimes with disastrous results.
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