The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is turning 50! On Dec. 29, 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for American’s workers. Since our agency’s launch, worker fatalities have decreased by about 60%, while work-related injuries and illnesses have decreased by nearly 80%. Although we have helped significantly reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses, there’s still more work to be done.
As we celebrate five decades of service to America’s workers, we’re reflecting on some of OSHA’s key milestones and standards.
1970s. In its first decade of service, OSHA introduced consensus standards, protecting workers from the health risks associated with asbestos and chemical carcinogens. The Cotton Dust Standard of 1978 led to a 90% decrease in worker fatalities associated with brown lung disease. Additionally, the OSHA Training Institute was established to educate both inspectors and the public.
1980s. OSHA continued to implement safety standards during its second decade, including excavation and trenching, grain handling facilities, and the lockout/tagout of hazardous energy. OSHA also created the Voluntary Protection Programs to recognize employers with exemplary safety and health records.
1990s. As science and technology progressed, OSHA issued new standards to protect workers, including on bloodborne pathogens and process safety management. The agency also issued standards to protect traditional workforces, including longshoring and marine terminals. Additionally, the agency created the Strategic Partnership Program to improve safety and health within OSHA’s jurisdiction. To broaden its reach and protect more workers, OSHA launched its website, www.osha.gov. Every day, the site welcomes an average of more than 89,000 visitors and records an average of 168 workplace complaints.
2000s. In response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and a series of natural disasters, OSHA provided resources to protect first responders. A fire and explosive standard introduced during this time covered issues like fire protection in the shipyard industry and combustible dust. The agency increased inspections of U.S. oil refineries following a deadly explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the agency developed compliance resources to prepare for national emergencies.
2010s. Over the last decade, OSHA has addressed new safety concerns in the construction industry, issuing standards for silica protection and working within confined spaces. The agency launched a series of annual safety awareness campaigns, including the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, which reached more than 457,000 workers in 2019. The #MySafeSummerJob initiative was established to educate young workers on job safety, rights in the workplace, and voicing their concerns. Finally, OSHA improved its outreach efforts by sponsoring more public forums and soliciting input on key initiatives, such as safety and health conditions for Hispanic workers, among others.
Over the past year, OSHA has responded to over 11,000 coronavirus complaints. The agency investigated every complaint, removed more than 646,000 workers from coronavirus hazards, and provided more than 20 guidance documents in multiple languages to help employers keep workers safe.
To read more about OSHA’s first five decades, visit our OSHA at 50 webpage.
Loren Sweatt is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Follow OSHA on Twitter at @OSHA_DOL.