The US government agency ‘OSHA’ was actually created in the year 1971 by the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970.
The mission of OSHA is to improve working conditions for the majority of the country’s workforce by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, education, and assistance to employers.
Workplace health and safety is an ongoing process, and whilst in 2023 we are in a much better place than we were way back in 1971 – the fight is definitely not over, and OSHA continues to introduce new measures every year.
It is interesting to view the timeline in how OSHA was formed.
Key milestones in OSHA history
- 1970: OSHA was established. This was under the Nixon administration.
- 1971: OSHA’s first safety and health standards are adopted nationwide.
- 1972: OSHA begins the OSHA on-site consultation program.
- 1972: the very first OSHA State Plans are approved.
- 1978: The OSHA Field Sanitation Standards are introduced.
- 1983: The Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) Standard is published.
- 2002: The Exit Routes, Emergency Action Plans, and Fire Prevention Plans Standards are introduced.
- 2010: OSHA establishes the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). This has a focus on employers who have demonstrated supreme indifference to their OSH Act obligations.
- 2016: The Final Rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses is published, requiring electronic submission of Form 300A.
- 2023: New electronic recordkeeping and submission rules are to be introduced in 2024.
Although OSHA was initially created in 1971, it was not in fact a brand new department within the Department of Labor.
The agency absorbed many of the functions performed by the former Bureau of Labor Standards, which had promoted industrial safety and health since 1922.
This now defunct bureau was responsible for the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which set minimum wages, and maximum work hours standards nationwide.
A head start for OSHA
OSHA did not have to start developing safety and health standards from scratch.
Several industries had federal safety and health regulations already in place so, where a gap existed for certain industries, many US states had set up their own commissions and state standards. Several states actually did this prior to the creation of the former Bureau of Labor Standards.
OSHA’s Early Days
At the time the first safety and health standards were published, they were little more than adaptations of standards already in place at other organizations. These organizations included the American National Standards Institute and the National Fire Protection Administration.
The first truly original OSHA standard came later – it responded to a widely known health hazard by limiting worker exposure to asbestos.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, OSHA published hundreds of health and safety standards.
But OSHA did not stop there – no Sir – they also published standards that provided for employee access to toxic exposure records; and standards that seek to reduce occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
The agency also extended its training and outreach programs and refined its system, to select targets for inspection.
OSHA since the Millenium
Since the turn of the century – OSHA has continued to both update existing standards, and publish new ones in response to ever evolving workplace hazards.
The agency’s training operation, On-Site Training and voluntary protection programs have grown.
They also introduced a new Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program that recognizes organizations with exemplary health and safety programs that result in fewer lost work days to injury and illness than the national average.
Inspections and Enforcement Actions
With regards to OSHA inspections and enforcement actions, the agency continues to increase inspections and scrutiny.
In 2022 OSHA conducted 30,000 inspections – the majority of these inspections are attributable to:
- Worker complaints
- Referrals from state and federal agencies.
Enforcement actions that resulted in a fine of $40,000 or more are now listed on the agency’s website and the maximum amount OSHA can issue as a fine is now subject to annual increases. The maximum penalty amount for 2023 is $156,259 per violation.
Organizations covered under OSHA standards should not be concerned about what year OSHA was created and why, but rather how they can achieve compliance.
A key factor in achieving compliance with OSHA standards is providing the recommended training to employees, for example workers in general and construction industries would likely need to get the pertinent 10-hour course and get OSHA 10 certified.
Other OSHA standards may require employees to complete other programs such as bloodborne pathogen certification or forklift safety training.