The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a US labor law
governing the federal law of occupational health and safety in the
private sector and federal government in the United States. It was
enacted by Congress in 1970 and was signed by President Richard Nixon
on December 29, 1970. Its main goal is to ensure that employers
provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards,
such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels,
mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions. The
Act created the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The Act can be found in the
United States Code
United States Code at title 29, chapter
1 History of federal workplace safety legislation
4 See also
6 External links
History of federal workplace safety legislation
Efforts by the federal government to ensure workplace health and
safety were minimal until the passage of OSHA. The American system of
mass production encouraged the use of machinery, while the statutory
regime did nothing to protect workplace safety. For most employers, it
was cheaper to replace a dead or injured worker than it was to
introduce safety measures.
Tort law provided little recourse
for relief for the survivors of dead workers or for injured
employees. After the Civil War, some improvements were made through
the establishment of state railroad and factory commissions, the
adoption of new technology (such as the railway air brake), and more
widespread availability of life insurance. But the overall impact of
these improvements was minimal.
The first federal safety legislation was enacted in the Progressive
period. In 1893, Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act, the first
federal statute to require safety equipment in the workplace (the law
applied only to railroad equipment, however). In 1910, in response
to a series of highly publicized and deadly mine explosions and
collapses, Congress established the
United States Bureau of Mines to
conduct research into mine safety (although the Bureau had no
authority to regulate mine safety). Backed by trade unions, many
states also enacted workers' compensation laws which discouraged
employers from permitting unsafe workplaces. These laws, as well as
the growing power of labor unions and public anger toward poor
workplace safety, led to significant reductions in worker accidents
for a time.
Industrial production increased significantly in the United States
during World War II, and industrial accidents soared. Winning the war
took precedence over safety, and most labor unions were more concerned
with maintaining wages in the face of severe inflation than with
workplace health and safety. After the war ended, however,
workplace accident rates remained high and began to rise. In the two
years preceding OSHA's enactment, 14,000 workers died each year from
workplace hazards, and another 2 million were disabled or harmed.
Additionally, the "chemical revolution" introduced a vast array of new
chemical compounds to the manufacturing environment. The health
effects of these chemicals were poorly understood, and workers
received few protections against prolonged or high levels of
exposure. While a few states, such as California and New York,
had enacted workplace safety as well as workplace health legislation,
most states had not changed their workplace protection laws since the
turn of the century.
In the mid-1960s, growing awareness of the environmental impact of
many chemicals had led to a politically powerful environmental
movement. Some labor leaders seized on the public's growing unease
over chemicals in the environment, arguing that the effect of these
compounds on worker health was even worse than the low-level exposure
plants and animals received in the wild. On January 23, 1968,
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson submitted a comprehensive occupational
health and safety bill to Congress. Led by the United States
Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the
legislation was widely opposed by business. Many labor leaders,
including the leadership of the AFL-CIO, supported the legislation,
including testifying in support at congressional hearings. The
legislation died in committee.
On April 14, 1969, President
Richard Nixon introduced two bills into
Congress which would have also protected worker health and safety.
The Nixon legislation was much less prescriptive than the Johnson
bill, and workplace health and safety regulation would be advisory
rather than mandatory. However, Representative
James G. O'Hara
James G. O'Hara and
Harrison A. Williams introduced a much stricter bill similar
to the Johnson legislation of the year before.
Companion legislation introduced in the House also imposed an
all-purpose "general duty" clause on the enforcing agency as well.
With the stricter approach of the Democratic bill apparently favored
by a majority of both chambers, and unions now strongly supporting
a bill, Republicans introduced a new, competing bill. The
compromise bill established the independent research and
standard-setting board favored by Nixon, while creating a new
enforcement agency. The compromise bill also gave the Department of
Labor the power to litigate on the enforcement agency's behalf (as in
the Democratic bill). In November 1970, both chambers acted: The
House passed the Republican compromise bill, while the Senate passed
the stricter Democratic bill (which now included the general duty
A conference committee considered the final bill in early December
1970. Union leaders pressured members of the conference committee to
place the standard-setting function in the Department of Labor rather
than an independent board. In return, unions agreed to let an
independent review commission have veto power over enforcement
actions. Unions also agreed to removal of a provision in the
legislation which would have let the Secretary of Labor shut down
plants or stop manufacturing procedures which put workers in "imminent
danger" of harm. In exchange for a Republican proposal to
establish an independent occupational health and safety research
agency, Democrats won inclusion of the "general duty" clause and the
right for union representatives to accompany a federal inspector
during inspections. The conference committee bill passed both
chambers on December 17, 1970, and President Nixon signed the bill on
December 29, 1970. According to the New York Times, labor and
Tony Mazzocchi was a "principal force behind the
The Act went into effect on April 28, 1971 (now celebrated as Workers'
Memorial Day by American labor unions).
In passing the Act, Congress declared its intent "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."
The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), an agency of the Department of Labor. OSHA was given the
authority both to set and enforce workplace health and safety
standards. The Act also created the independent Occupational Safety
and Health Review Commission to review enforcement priorities, actions
The Act also established the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH), an independent research institute in the
then Department of Health, Education & Welfare now under-Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Act defines an employer to be any "person engaged in a business
affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United
States or any state or political subdivision of a State." The Act
applies to employers as diverse as manufacturers, construction
companies, law firms, hospitals, charities, labor unions and private
Churches and other religious organizations are covered if they employ
workers for secular purposes. The Act excludes the self-employed,
family farms, workplaces covered by other federal laws (such as
mining, nuclear weapons manufacture, railroads and airlines) and state
and local governments (unless state law permits otherwise). The Act
covers federal agencies and the
United States Postal Service.
Section 5 of the Act contains the "general duty clause." The "general
duty clause" requires employers to 1) Maintain conditions or adopt
practices reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on
the job; 2) Be familiar with and comply with standards applicable to
their establishments; and 3) Ensure that employees have and use
personal protective equipment when required for safety and health.
OSHA has established regulations for when it may act under the
"general duty clause." The four criteria are 1) There must be a
hazard; 2) The hazard must be a recognized hazard (e.g., the employer
knew or should have known about the hazard, the hazard is obvious, or
the hazard is a recognized one within the industry); 3) The hazard
could cause or is likely to cause serious harm or death; and 4) The
hazard must be correctable (OSHA recognizes not all hazards are
Although theoretically a powerful tool against workplace hazards, it
is difficult to meet all four criteria. Therefore, OSHA has engaged in
extensive regulatory rule-making to meet its obligations under the
Due to the difficulty of the rule-making process (which is governed by
the Administrative Procedures Act), OSHA has focused on basic
mechanical and chemical hazards rather than procedures. Major areas
which its standards currently cover are: Toxic substances, harmful
physical agents, electrical hazards, fall hazards, hazards associated
with trenches and digging, hazardous waste, infectious disease, fire
and explosion dangers, dangerous atmospheres, machine hazards, and
Section 8 of the Act covers reporting requirements. All employers must
report to OSHA within eight hours if an employee dies from a
work-related incident, or three or more employees are hospitalized as
a result of a work-related incident. Additionally, all fatal
on-the-job heart attacks must also be reported. Section 8 permits OSHA
inspectors to enter, inspect and investigate, during regular working
hours, any workplace covered by the Act. Employers must also
communicate with employees about hazards in the workplace. By
regulation, OSHA requires that employers keep a record of every
non-consumer chemical product used in the workplace. Detailed
technical bulletins called material safety data sheets (MSDSs) must be
posted and available for employees to read and use to avoid chemical
hazards. OSHA also requires employers to report on every injury or
job-related illness requiring medical treatment (other than first aid)
on OSHA Form 300, "Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses" (known
as an "OSHA Log" or "Form 300"). An annual summary is also required
and must be posted for three months, and records must be kept for at
least five years.
Section 11(c) of the Act prohibits any employer from discharging,
retaliating or discriminating against any employee because the worker
has exercised rights under the Act. These rights include complaining
to OSHA and seeking an OSHA inspection, participating in an OSHA
inspection, and participating or testifying in any proceeding related
to an OSHA inspection.
Section 18 of the Act permits and encourages states to adopt their own
occupational safety and health plans, so long as the state standards
and enforcement "are or will be at least as effective in providing
safe and healthful employment" as the federal OSH Act. States that
have such plans are known as "OSHA States." As of 2007, 22 states and
territories operated complete plans and four others had plans that
covered only the public sector.
United States labor law
Factory Acts (UK)
Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994
Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (Malaysia)
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (UK)
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The full text of the OSH Act in HTML format
The official OSHA web site
The official NIOSH web site
Occupational safety and health
Byssinosis ("brown lung")
Chimney sweeps' carcinoma
Chronic solvent-induced encephalopathy (CSE)
Coalworker's pneumoconiosis ("black lung")
Concussions in sport
De Quervain syndrome
Exposure to human nail dust
Flock worker's lung
Laboratory animal allergy
Mad hatter disease
Metal fume fever
Mule spinners' cancer
Noise-induced hearing loss
Repetitive strain injury
Hierarchy of hazard controls
Prevention through design
Occupational exposure limit
Occupational health nursing
Occupational health psychology
Agencies and organizations
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
UK Health and Safety Executive
International Labour Organization
U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
World Health Organization
Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981
Worker Protection Standard
Worker Protection Standard (US)
Working Environment Convention, 1977
Environment, health and safety
Indoor air quality
International Chemical Safety Card
National Day of Mourning (Canadian observance)
Process safety management
Safety data sheet
Safety data sheet (SDS)