The Birth of OSHA

Source: Clindberg - Wikimedia Commons/OSHA

In December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which led to the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Department of Labor. As an administrative component of the DOL, OSHA can create regulations and standards designed to ensure the safety of workers at the workplace. OSHA’s primary goal is to ensure employers provide workers with a work environment that is free of recognizable hazards, such as excessive noise, unsanitary conditions, toxic chemical exposure, and equipment hazards.

In the 1800s, long before the implementation of OSHA, most employers found it was cheaper to replace injured or dead employees than to implement safety measures. Coupled with public anger rose in opposition to unsafe workplaces and the increasing power of unions, many states created workers’ compensation laws to discourage employers from permitting unsafe workplaces. As industrial production increased following World War II, workplace injuries also increased. In the two years prior to OSHA’s enactment, 14,000 workers died each year and another 2 million were disabled or harmed.

In January of 1968, President Johnson submitted an occupational health and safety bill widely opposed by business. The bill died in committee. A year later, President Nixon introduced two bills that would also protect worker safety and health. This bill made worker safety rules advisory while the Johnson bill made them mandatory. A much stricter bill was introduced, more in line with Johnson’s bill, by Representative James O’Hara and Senator Harrison Williams. This bill included the General Duty clause, which required employers to amend all identified workplace hazards. Republicans introduced a competing bill that included the establishment of an independent research and standard-setting board, and created a new enforcement agency within the Department of Labor.

The compromise bill was signed by Nixon in late December and the OSH Act went into effect on April 28, 1971.