Workers’ Rights in the United States

The United States has more than 180 laws in place to govern workers’ rights.Historically, workplace rights and protections were less of a priority than they are today. Little attention was paid to either. According to Mark Aldrich of the Economic History Association, this attitude meant dangerous trades were far riskier than they needed to be.

“To take but one example, mining today remains a comparatively risky activity. Its annual fatality rate is about nine for every one hundred thousand miners employed,” Aldrich explains. “(But) a century ago in 1900 about three hundred out of every one hundred thousand miners were killed on the job each year.”

Conditions have vastly improved since then. Today, the U.S. has protections in place to govern workers’ rights. According to Balance Careers, more than 180 federal laws currently help ensure 10 million employers and 125 million workers nationwide are protected from unfair treatment, would-be dangers and unnecessary accidents.

Those laws are what help regulate employee working conditions rights in the areas of hiring, wages, hours and salary, discrimination, harassment, safety, employee benefits, paid time off, job applicant and employee testing, privacy, and employee rights issues.

A bachelor degree in occupational health and safety from Eastern Kentucky University can help professionals gain a deeper understanding about the importance and necessity for workers’ rights, especially as it pertains to workplace conditions.

Workplace Conditions Rights

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers are entitled to decent and safe working conditions as one of their employee working conditions rights. At the very least, rights should include the regulation of working time, the appropriate payment of wages, and effective oversight of occupational health and safety.

Some of the more recognized laws currently protecting workers include The Fair Labor Standards Act, The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), The Family Medical and Family Leave Act, and The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The right to a safe workplace is an area of concern largely addressed by The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which prohibits any workplace practice that represents a clear risk to those employed there.

The Act ensures employers will “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees” and that they “shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”

OSHA further promises “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health.”

Some of the ways OSHA ensures safety is by providing standards for on-the-job protection, including:

  • Provide fall protection, such as a safety harness and lifeline
  • Prevent trenching cave-ins
  • Ensure the safety of workers entering confined spaces (manholes, grain bins)
  • Prevent exposure to levels of noise that can damage hearing
  • Put guards on machines
  • Prevent exposure to harmful levels of substances such as asbestos or lead
  • Provide workers with respirators and safety equipment (free of charge)

A Safer Future

On a worldwide scale, an estimated 2.8 million work-related deaths still happen every year according to “The Heart of the Future of Work: Building on 100 Years of Experience,” a report released earlier this year by the International Labor Organization (ILO). A far greater number of workers—374 million—suffer non-fatal on-the-job injuries and illnesses annually.

While those deaths largely point to circulatory disease, cancer and respiratory disease as main causes, the effects of those who pass on are staggering. The annual total lost days of work resulting from work-related injuries and illnesses equals almost 4% of the world’s gross domestic product.

The ILO report makes its own recommendations to help policymakers and stakeholders combat present workplace safety challenges moving forward. They include:

  • Adopt a multidisciplinary approach; build stronger links to public health work.
  • Enhance worker understanding of OSH issues.
  • Strengthen national legislation, requiring stronger collaboration between governments, workers and employers.

“As well as more effective prevention for established risks, we are seeing profound changes in our places and ways of working,” said Manal Azzi, technical specialist on OSH at ILO. “We need safety and health structures that reflect this, alongside a general culture of prevention that creates shared responsibility.”

One way of learning more about that responsibility is by pursuing a bachelor degree in occupational health and safety. It helps provide the background and skills necessary for a career in occupational safety that includes workers’ rights and protections in the United States.

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety (BSOS) Degree

Eastern Kentucky University’s online bachelor degree in occupational health and safety offers a range of online health and safety courses, including Human Factors in Occupational Safety and Safety and Health Program Management.

For more information, or to apply, contact EKU today.

Recommended Reading:

The Economic Aspect of Health and Safety

Occupational Safety and Sustainability

Identifying and Analyzing Workplace Standards


U.S. safety history stats: Economic History Association

Laws statistics: The Balance

OSHA Safety Act definition: OSHA

OSHA standards: OSHA

Future safety recommendations: Safety and Health Magazine