What is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works under the United States Department of Labor. It was founded in 1970 to address and prevent hazards and injuries to workers caused by unsafe workplace practices. Its job is to define safe working environments, and enforce safe working environments. Since its original founding, OSHA has been weakened by laws passed during the Reagan Administration, and the first Bush Administration.

Part of the urge to weaken the laws was that OSHA regulations tend to be quite burdensome and sometimes difficult to follow. As well, OSHA regulations are not necessarily uniform and are not enforced with equality. However, OSHA has resulted in significant safety measure changes in different workplaces. For example, OSHA guidelines for the disposal of sharps (used needles) have now made hospital workers much less prone to the contraction of grave illnesses like hepatitis and HIV.

One of the most compelling works of OSHA was a ten-year study assessing the ergonomics of the workplace, which included recommendations on how to improve work conditions from an ergonomic standpoint. OSHA was not allowed to enforce new rules requiring safer positions for working because the Clinton administration weakened the OSHA position again.

Instead, OSHA was allowed to print pamphlets regarding more ergonomically sound positions for workers. Many employers in production businesses gladly implemented OSHA’s suggestions since about a third of work injuries are caused by ergonomically unsound body positioning. As well as causing problems for workers, this causes problems for employers because the may have to pay to retrain workers for other positions, or for injuries incurred in the workplace.

OSHA is also less effective because it is only allowed to prosecute companies that through negligence cause the death of a worker. Furthermore, maximum sentencing for such prosecution is six months total. Sometimes OSHA will work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to prosecute more effectively and with longer sentencing times. This is particularly the case when death is caused by exposure to hazardous substances.

Many companies find working with OSHA cumbersome, but over time, OSHA has been able to more consistently enforce certain regulations. OSHA is occasionally burdened by conflicting state regulations. Many US states have their own Occupational Safety departments.

There is hope that OSHA may be revived if empowered with greater ability to prosecute for willful violations of OSHA standards or guidelines that result in severe injury or deaths of workers. The efforts to revitalize OSHA are primarily led by labor unions and labor-friendly members of Congress.

Comments are closed.