On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was born.
OSHA’s mission is to "assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance."
The Bureau of Labor Standards of the Department of Labor had originally worked on some work safety issues since its creation in 1922. Economic boom and associated labor turnover during World War II worsened work safety in nearly all areas of the United States economy, worsened work safety in nearly all areas of the United States economy, but after 1945 accidents declined for a time. New influence and power for labor unions played an increasingly important role in worker safety post-World War II. But in the 1960s, increasing economic expansion again led to rising injury rates, and the resulting political pressures meant a new agency needed to be created.
Understanding the OSH Act:
The OSH Act, enacted in 1970, was a landmark legislation aimed at safeguarding the health and well-being of American workers. Its primary purpose was to establish comprehensive regulations for workplace safety and health standards across various industries. Since its inception, the OSH Act has empowered workers by granting them the right to a safe working environment free from recognized hazards.
The Role of OSHA:
OSHA, an agency operating under the U.S. Department of Labor, is tasked with enforcing the regulations outlined in the OSH Act. Their mission is to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for all employees. OSHA achieves this through inspections, investigations, and the establishment of safety standards. Injured workers can rely on OSHA to hold employers accountable for any violations that compromise workplace safety. By filing complaints with OSHA, injured workers can initiate investigations and prompt corrective actions.
NIOSH's Contribution to Workplace Safety:
Working in tandem with OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) focuses on research, education, and prevention strategies to reduce workplace hazards. NIOSH conducts scientific studies, develops guidelines, and provides recommendations to improve workplace safety. Their expertise helps inform OSHA's regulatory decisions and ensures that worker protection measures are based on the best available evidence.
How OSHA and NIOSH Benefit Injured Workers:
For injured workers, OSHA and NIOSH serve as vital resources throughout their journey towards justice and compensation. OSHA's enforcement actions can result in penalties and corrective measures, holding employers accountable for their negligence. Injured workers can seek support from OSHA in investigating incidents, addressing hazards, and understanding their rights under the OSH Act. Additionally, NIOSH's research and recommendations contribute to the development of safer work practices, reducing the risk of future accidents and injuries.
OSH Act coverage:
The OSH Act covers most private-sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public-sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Those jurisdictions include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands as defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA. Federal OSHA approves and monitors all state plans and provides as much as fifty percent of the funding for each program. State-run safety and health programs are required to be at least as effective as the federal OSHA program. Sadly Ohio isn’t one of the 22 states and territories that have such a program.
Rights and responsibilities under OSH Act law
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. By law, employers must provide their workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards, and they must follow all OSH Act safety and health standards. Employers are obligated to identify and rectify safety and health problems. The OSH Act further requires that employers must first attempt to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in working conditions, rather than relying solely on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs. Examples of effective ways to eliminate or reduce risks include switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air.
Employers must also:
Inform workers about chemical hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets, and other relevant methods..
Provide safety training to workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSH Act standards.
Provide the required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers, as employers must pay for most types of required personal protective equipment.
Provide hearing exams or other medical tests when required by OSH Act standards.
Post OSHA citations and annually post injury and illness summary data where workers can see them.
Notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality and within 24 hours of all work-related inpatient hospitalizations or injuries where sufficient time missed from work has occurred.
Workers have the right to:
Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected.
Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSH Act standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be conducted in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand.
Receive copies of records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring conducted to identify and measure hazards in their workplace.
Receive copies of their workplace medical records.
Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
File a complaint with OSHA if they have faced retaliation or discrimination from their employer as a result of requesting an inspection or exercising any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a 'whistleblower' under the 21 additional federal laws for which OSHA has jurisdiction.
Temporary workers must be treated like permanent employees. Staffing agencies and host employers share joint accountability for temporary workers. Both entities are therefore obligated to comply with workplace health and safety requirements and ensure worker safety and health. OSHA could hold both the host and temporary employers responsible for any violations.
Whistleblower Protection Program:
OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP) enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 24 other statutes protecting workers who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws.
How Well Has OSHA Worked:
A 2012 study in Science found that OSHA's random workplace safety inspections caused a "9.4% decline in injury rates" and a "26% reduction in injury cost" for the inspected firms. The study found "no evidence that these improvements came at the expense of employment, sales, credit ratings, or firm survival” A 2020 study in the American Economic Review found that the decision by the Obama administration to issue press releases that named and shamed facilities that violated OSHA safety and health regulations led other facilities to increase their compliance and to experience fewer workplace injuries. The study estimated that each press release had the same effect on compliance as 210 inspections.
Now Ohio has its own workplace safety regulations. But unlike OSHA regulations they are not researched by anything like NIOSH and are nowhere as often amended. In fact, colleagues who work with both sets of regulations say there are some which are incompatible with each other.
Is OSHA perfect, no, it’s underfunded, therefore not sufficiently staffed, and there are not enough enforcement penalties. But it has made a difference. And every year, those of us who advocate for workers celebrate two days of the year in regard to this, the day it was signed, and in March when the act first took effect. And locally, that is when we celebrate Workers’ Memorial Day. So we can remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.
Has someone you love been saved by these safety measures? We have seen far too many lives cut short or the quality of life destroyed by work injuries. So I personally pray that one day, thanks to OSHA & NIOSH, we’re no longer needed.
But for now, we are here to help those hurt on the job in Ohio. Call us at 419-244-7885. We have over three decades of experience helping people hurt on the job, and offer a no cost, no obligation initial consultation.
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