What Is the Occupational Safety And Health Act?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a law passed by Congress in 1970 to ensure safer workplace conditions in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a US law that enforces workplace standards that ensure that employees are protected from hazards that compromise their safety and health.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NOSH).
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act applies to most private and public employers.

Understanding the Occupational Safety And Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act established the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces workplace health and safety standards, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NOSH), the federal agency that conducts research and recommends solutions for the prevention of work-related illnesses and injuries. In some parts of the country, an OSHA-approved state agency helps enforce job safety standards, which must be at least as stringent as federal guidelines.

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in December 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (commonly called the OSH Act) was enacted to create safe working conditions by authorizing standard work practices. Congress found that workplace personal injuries and illnesses contributed to a decline in production and wages, plus an increase in medical expenses and disability compensation. The act is designed to ensure that workers are protected from hazards that may affect their safety and health, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, damaging noise, thermal stresses, unsanitary conditions, et al. To aide states and other U.S. territories in the adoption of safe and healthful working conditions, the act provided for related research, education, and training. Most states partially or fully control the occupational health and safety standards for their employees.

The 1970 legislation gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the authority to create industry-specific guidelines. However, the act also outlined a “general duty” clause, which stipulates that an employer must provide a safe environment that does not threaten the safety and welfare of the employee.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act applies to most private and public employers. Individuals not protected by the law include self-employed individuals, workers on small family farms, and those working in an industry regulated by a separate federal agency.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is federally appointed to develop, promote, and enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations. OSHA first enforces the general duty clause (5(a)(1)) of the act, which states that "each employer shall furnish to each of its employees conditions of employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious injury or harm to its employees." OSHA also oversees the regulations that require employers to take measures to ensure the safety and health of its workers. Violators face penalties and fines, with major violations carrying fines of up to $70,000 per day.