What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 February 2020
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The Occupational Safety and Health Act, also known as OSHA, is a United States' federal law regulating the protection of workers from on-the-job hazards. A landmark piece of legislation, the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act was one of the first pieces of US legislation to emphasize the importance of worker safety over business profitability. Among many provisions, OSHA required employers to provide a safe working environment, and granted the Secretary of Labor jurisdiction over the creation of standards and policy regarding occupational safety regulations.

The mid-20th century was a boom time for American business and commercial enterprise. Extraordinary technological developments led to extensive changes in factory and workplace life, including the integration of mass producing machines, and the use of chemical products. The downside to this innovation was that new products and ideas were often put into use without any regard to worker safety or health. A growing list of workplace deaths, chemically-induced illnesses, and horrifying injuries led to calls from union leaders and workers to enact federal legislation to protect workers. Thanks to heavy business lobbying, a similar act put forth by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the early 1960s failed to pass, but President Nixon and the US legislature successfully passed a compromised version of the bill in 1970, creating the Occupational Safety and Health Act.


One of the major functions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act was to create a government agency, based out of the Department of Labor, charged with monitoring, standardizing, and enforcing safety laws. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, also gained the ability to conduct inspections of workplaces, enforce sanctions against violators, and assist certain businesses with updating to meet current standards. Another organization, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), was created to handle safety-related research.

While the practical effect of the Occupational Safety and Health Act created a government mechanism to manage workplace safety standards, the philosophical impact of the bill may have had an even greater effect. Since the industrial revolution, many industrial countries struggled with the sometimes contrary issues of business profitability and worker safety. While earlier pieces of legislation had limited working hours and created wage standards, few laws assumed the duty of the employer to provide for worker's safety while on the job. By insisting on the importance of this duty, the passage of the OSH act heralded a new era in workplace safety.


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Post 2

I'm really surprised that it was Nixon who managed to put through the occupational health and safety act in the end. He isn't the kind of president that people remember for good things, but this was a pretty good thing for him to do.

That being said, it could be that he was bowing to pressure from lobby groups, or that there was some other reason for him doing it. But, still it might pay to remember this about him, when you think about all the other things that he did in his presidency and his lifetime.

Post 1

People tend to take OSHA for granted now, and make jokes about it and simply think about it as an inconvenience. And it's true, it does seem like an inconvenience to have to fill out a form every time you get a paper cut in an office job.

But, when you consider the horrific work conditions that some people endured back before OSHA was made into law, it becomes a little bit easier to understand.

The occupational safety and health act of 1970 wasn't put into place just for paper cuts, it was put there to prevent you from being exposed to toxic radiation or chemicals in your daily life.

If that means you need to occasionally fill out a form or two, I think it's worth it.

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