What Is OSHA: Understanding Their Role
What is OSHA? If you’ve been keeping up with the content of this site for the last few months, you might’ve seen an uptick in articles regarding the government watchdog agency. The reason for this mostly comes down to the new OSHA regulations involving silica dust, but because of the new guidelines, manufacturers have been engineering tools to conform to those standards, and we’ve had the distinct pleasure of covering those new releases as well. Talking about OSHA regulations, infractions, and manufacturing accommodations ad nauseum has been a real treat. So, if, like me, you’re dying for another heaping spoonful of OSHA-related content, I’ve got good news: this article is for you.
What is OSHA? A Very Brief History
So, what is OSHA, and what is its purpose? Prior to OSHA’s inception, there weren’t too many workplace health and safety measures in place. Aside from the Safety Appliance Act of 1893 – which really only applied to railroad equipment – and a few other minor regulations, the vast majority of workplace safety measures were tackled by trade unions and marginally effective worker compensation laws.
By 1970, workplace injuries and fatalities had been steadily rising. In the two years before OSHA formed, workplace fatalities totaled around 14,000 per year. A couple million people were also disabled or hurt in some way.
In response to dangerous working conditions across the nation, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law in 1970. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency designed to carry out the new law, formed four months later in 1971. The new agency carried out the task of making sure that businesses and job sites provided a safe workplace that would operate free from recognized hazards.
What Is OSHA? Their Role
Since its inception, OSHA has promoted safety and health in the workplace and has sought to reduce the occurrence of on-the-job injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Ultimately, OSHA’s mission and purpose have been to send every worker home healthy at the end of the day.
Some of the measures that OSHA requires of an employer include providing safety training through approved training programs and requiring employers to keep records of employee illness and injury. OSHA also requires employers to provide personal protective gear at no cost to the worker. They require proper labeling techniques for hazardous materials, and for employers to perform safety tests in the workplace.
Through OSHA regulation, workers are granted particular rights. They can receive information and training about hazards and preventative practices. They can request work-related injury records, test results for safety inspections, and workplace medical records. Workers can request an inspection of their workplace, and participate in OSHA inspections. They can speak privately with OSHA inspectors. Workers also have the right to file complaints against their employer without fear of retaliation or punishment.
What Is OSHA? Cause and Effect
OSHA’s primary function revolves around maintaining safe work environments for employees. And, in theory, it’s a great idea. No one wants to come home from work dead (would you go home if you were?) and especially not through an employer’s negligence. It’s unfortunate that there are companies who would rather take shortcuts than ensuring everyone’s safety. But, such is human nature. When the bottom line becomes a company’s first priority, over and above the safety of the workers who make industry possible, an agency with the power to enforce safety precautions becomes a necessity. OSHA’s almost 50-year long commitment to protecting the laborer helps keep overzealous or uncaring employers in check.
However, while OSHA’s primary function has less to do with slowing down productivity and handing out fines, they have certainly earned a bit of a reputation in both those areas. In fact, some folks might argue that what started as a good and necessary idea has turned into another bloated government program. It has its good qualities, sure. But, with so many nitpicky statutes and regulations on the books, production can get tied up in so much bureaucratic red tape that OSHA sometimes seems to cause more harm than good. Some might argue that OSHA can come across as an overprotective mother who can’t stop nagging long enough for anybody to get any work done.
Undoubtedly, though, since 1970, workplace fatalities have decreased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, fatalities have dropped from 14,000 in 1970 to 4,500 in 2010. Work-related injury and illness have dropped from 11 per 100 workers to 3.5 per 100. At the same time, employment has doubled to over 130 million workers at more than 7.2 million worksites. It’s hard to argue that OSHA, whether an extension of the nanny state or not, has not had a positive effect on the workplace overall.