EHS Insider Blog

What is OSHA - Topic 1 - Why is OSHA Important to you?


The purpose of this series is to answer the question - What is OSHA? The series is composed of 6 individual topics. Each topic expands on the question - What is OSHA?

Topic 1. Why is OSHA important to you?

Topic 2. What rights do you have under OSHA?

Topic 3. What responsibilities does your employer have under OSHA?

Topic 4. What do the OSHA standards say?

Topic 5. How are OSHA inspections conducted?

Topic 6. Where can you go for help?

The topics provide basic knowledge of: OSHA’s history and mission, worker rights under OSHA, employer responsibilities under OSHA, OSHA standards, OSHA inspections, and safety and health resources, including how to file an OSHA complaint.

Topic 1: Why is OSHA Important to you? 

A. History of OSHA

OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA’s responsibility is worker safety and health protection. The U.S. Congress created OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act). Congress passed the law and established OSHA “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.”

OSHA began because, until 1970, there were no national laws for safety and health hazards.

Some events that led to the OSHA law include:

  • The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City killed 146 of 500 employees in one of the worst work-related disasters in our country’s history. Factory workers, mainly young, female immigrants working long hours for low wages, died because doors were locked and there were no fire escapes. This tragedy outraged the public, who called for safety and health reform. Frances Perkins, who later became the first Secretary of Labor, investigated the Triangle fire and tried to find ways to prevent future occurrences.
  • Production for World War I caused a crisis in workplace safety and health conditions. The government created a Working Conditions Service to help states inspect plants and reduce hazards.
  • In the 1930’s, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, additional laws increased the federal government’s role in job safety and health. But the federal role was mainly to provide service and information to state governments. By the late 1950’s, the Federal-State partnership could no longer deal with the growing workforce and increasing hazards. Additional federal laws were enacted, but only covered certain industries.

By the 1960’s, 14,000 workers died every year and more than 2.2 million workers were not able to work from injuries and illnesses.

Many thought that the only solution was a Federal law with the same rules and enforcement for everyone. On December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the OSH Act. This Act created OSHA, the agency, which formally came into being on April 28, 1971. With the creation of OSHA, for the first time, all employers in the United States had the legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees. And, there were now uniform regulations that applied to all workplaces.

The OSH Act is also known as Public Law 91-596. It covers all private sector employers and their workers in the 50 states and all territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Employers and workers in many fields, including but not limited to manufacturing, construction, longshoring, agriculture, law, medicine, charity and disaster relief are covered by OSHA. Religious groups are covered if they employ workers for secular purposes, such as maintenance or gardening.

Which groups do not come under OSHA’s coverage?

  • The self-employed;
  • Immediate members of farming families not employing outside workers;
  • Mine workers, certain truckers and transportation workers, and atomic energy workers who are covered by other federal agencies;
  • Public employees in state and local governments, although some states have their own plans that cover these workers. 

5 Steps for a Closed Loop Corrective Action Process

B. OSHA’s Mission

Now that you know a little bit about why OSHA was created, let’s talk about OSHA’s mission. The mission of OSHA is to save lives, prevent injuries and protect the health of America’s workers.

To achieve this, federal and state governments work together with more than 100 million working men and women and eight million employers. Some of the things OSHA does to carry out its mission are:

  • Developing job safety and health standards and enforcing them through worksite inspections,
  • maintaining a reporting and recordkeeping system to keep track of job-related injuries and illnesses, and
  • providing training programs to increase knowledge about occupational safety and health.

OSHA also assists the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions, through OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states. State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA. States with approved plans cover most private sector employees as well as state and local government workers in the state. State plan programs respond to accidents and employee complaints and conduct unannounced inspections, just like federal OSHA. And, some states have OSHA-approved plans that cover only state and local government workers. 

C. Importance of this Training

Even though OSHA has had an impact on worker safety and health, significant hazards and unsafe conditions still exist in U.S. workplaces.

Each year:

  • On average, 15 workers die every day from job injuries
  • Over 5,600 Americans die from workplace injuries annually
  • Over 4 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported; and

The estimated cost of occupational injuries and illnesses are from $145 billion to $290 billion a year for direct and indirect costs

OSHA is a small agency, with approximately 1000 federal inspectors and 1400 state inspectors to cover about eight million workplaces. As you can see from these numbers, OSHA cannot be everywhere. That is why it is important for you to know your rights and for employers to be aware of their responsibilities under OSHA. This training will help you know whether your employer is complying with OSHA standards, what rights you have related to job safety and health, and where you can go if you need help.

When you know your rights, and when employers act responsibly to prevent hazards, the result will be fewer worker deaths, injuries and illnesses. Training and education are key in making this happen.

Next:  Topic 2. What Rights do you have under OSHA?


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Topics: What is OSHA Safety Training