An Overview Of Occupational Safety In The United States

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Safety First button on a keyboardOSHA, short for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a part of the United States Department of Labor.  The main charge of OSHA is the safety and health of workers in the workplace.  Created by Congress in 1970, OSHA is a part of the OSH Act.  Congress formed OSHA with the purpose of ensuring safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve human resources in the United States.  Prior to 1970, there were no national laws that addressed safety and health hazards in the workplace.

Historic Events Preceding the Creation of OSHA

OSHA was created after several tragic and concerning events that harmed, or even killed, many American workers.  These events included:

  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911.  This fire in New York City killed 146 out of 500 employees and is one of the worst work-related disasters in our country’s history.  With locked doors and no fire escapes, this was a tragic accident waiting to happen.  Many young female immigrant workers lost their lives, thanks to unsafe working conditions.  Understandably, this event garnered public outcry and got the ball rolling for health and safety standards and reform in the workplace. Frances Perkins, a then future Secretary of Labor, investigated this fire and worked at finding ways to prevent future similar fires.
  • World War I productions, which also caused much concern regarding safety and health in the workplace.  At that time, the Working Conditions Service was created by the government.  This agency helped inspect plants and decrease workplace hazards.
  • The New Deal laws of the 1930s, which lead to a bigger role of the federal government in safety and health in the workplace, thanks to President Roosevelt.  However, these laws fell short as their main role was simply to provide service and information to individual state governments.  Some twenty years later, this arrangement was no longer working, as they could not keep up with the increasing hazards and workforce.  More laws came into effect, however, not all industries were covered.
  • In the 1960s, workplace health and safety was a very evident issue in the United States, with 14,000 workers dying each year.  In addition, 2.2 million were out of work due to injuries and illnesses.

The Creation of OSHA

With workplace deaths and injuries on the rise, the federal government decided it was time to act. On Dec 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the OSH Act, which became law on April 28, 1971.  This was the first time in history that all employers in this country had the same legal responsibilities to make sure workplaces were safe and healthy places for workers to be.  Uniform regulations applied to all workplaces in the United States for the first time ever.

Who is Covered Under OSHA Laws?

The OSH Act, also came to be known as Public Law 91-596.  It covers employers and workers in the private sector in all states and territories.  Many different fields of employment are covered by OSHA, including charity, disaster relief, medicine, law, longshoring, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.  Religious organizations are also covered if they employee people for secular purposes, such as lawn care, maintenance or cleaning.

However, some employment groups are exempt from OSHA laws.  The exempt groups include:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Immediate members of families who farm and do not employ outside workers
  • Workers covered under other federal programs and agencies, such as truckers, mine workers, and transportation workers
  • Public employees for state and local governments, however, some have their own types of worker safety and health plans

OSHAs Goal

The main goal of OSHA is to prevent workplace deaths and injuries, and to protect the health of workers in America.  To meet this goal, federal and state governments come together with employees and employers.  OSHA develops worker safety and health standards and enforces them through inspections on the worksite.  It also provides for maintaining a system of reporting and recordkeeping for job-related illnesses and injuries.  OSHA also trains through various programs to increase awareness and knowledge of occupational safety and health.

Careers Within OSHA

If a career helping people stay safe in the workplace sounds interesting to you, there are several different career fields in the OSHA agency:

OSHA Technician

This profession can be entered into with an associate’s degree or certificate.  Many OSHA technicians are first responders in the event of a workplace biohazard or other emergency.  They also collect data related to the safety and health conditions in the workplace.

Industrial Hygienist

Industrial hygienists are knowledgeable in the areas of biohazards, engineering, ventilation, hazard communication, noise, radiation, and toxicology and health risk analysis.  They are trained to recognize, evaluate, prevent and control environmental hazards or stresses which can cause illness or sickness in the workplace.

Safety Program Manager

This positon generally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Coursework will usually include human resources, training and development, as well as organizational theory.  Many people in this field have an extensive background in human resources.  The safety program manager has the job of knowing OSHA legal requirements and being a go between for the company and workers with OSHA.

The field of occupational safety is an ever-changing and growing one.  As some careers and industries fail to thrive and others are created and grow, this field also changes.  For those in the field of occupation safety is a very important one in the United States, in order to keep American workers safe and protected as they exercise their liberty to earn a living.

Learn More

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.