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What is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works under the United States Department of Labor. It was founded in 1970 to address and prevent hazards and injuries to workers caused by unsafe workplace practices. Its job is to define safe working environments, and enforce safe working environments.

Historically, many critics of OSHA have complained that its regulations tend to be quite burdensome and sometimes difficult to follow. They are not necessarily uniform and are not enforced with equality. The agency has worked to develop significant safety measure changes in different workplaces, however. For example, OSHA guidelines for the disposal of sharps (used needles) have now made hospital workers much less prone to the contraction of grave illnesses like hepatitis and HIV.

One of the most compelling works of OSHA was a ten-year study assessing the ergonomics of the workplace, which included recommendations on how to improve work conditions from an ergonomic standpoint. The agency was not allowed to enforce new rules requiring safer positions, however, although it was allowed to print pamphlets regarding more ergonomically sound positions for workers. Many employers in production businesses gladly implemented these suggestions, since about 33% of work injuries are caused by ergonomically unsound body positioning. As well as causing problems for workers, this causes problems for employers because the may have to pay to retrain workers for other positions, or for injuries incurred in the workplace.

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Although OSHA has released many workplace safety regulations, it is only allowed to prosecute companies that, through negligence, cause the death of a worker. Maximum sentencing for successful prosecution is six months total. Sometimes, the agency will work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prosecute more effectively and with longer sentencing times. This is particularly the case when death is caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

Many companies find working with OSHA to be difficult, but over time, the agency has been able to more consistently enforce certain regulations. It is occasionally burdened by conflicting state regulations, as many US states have their own occupational safety departments.

The number of recommendations that OSHA has released in the first decade of the 21st century have been extremely limited, but there is hope that agency may be revived if empowered with greater ability to prosecute willful violations of its standards and guidelines that result in severe injury or deaths of workers. The efforts to revitalize OSHA are primarily led by labor unions and labor-friendly members of Congress.

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sweetPeas
Post 3

@Misscoco - I think that in its basic form, OSHA is a very necessary agency. People who work in dangerous and unhealthy workplaces need an agency to protect them. Companies usually don't do a very good job of improving safety and health to their employees.

OSHA does have some drawbacks, though. It is a huge government agency. Big government agencies have difficulty managing the work load and keeping the agency organized. There are different regulations in different states - these should be standardized.

Another problem is they don't have enough power to enforce their own regulations. I believe OSHA needs to be a smaller organization,and more organized. Its mission is crucial to those whose work place is dangerous or potentially unhealthy.

Misscoco
Post 2

I don't think labor unions have the power and capability to protect workers in the workplace from health risks and possible bodily injury. So who is to provide them with knowledge and protection?

I think that OSHA is the organization to do this. They have done some good research in the areas of ergonomics and initiated changes. Also, in the medical field, they have started some good safety programs to protect hospital employees.

I don't quite understand why OSHA has gotten a bad name and why its services have been cut back by several presidents. Any ideas?

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