OSH Act Of 1970

By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: April 29, 2024

What Does OSH Act Of 1970 Mean?

The Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 was a landmark piece of legislation that represented a significant advance in workplace safety.

Much like current OSHA regulations, the OSH Act of 1970 includes a general duty clause that requires employers to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards that can cause injury or death to workers.

The Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 29, 1970.

Safeopedia Explains OSH Act Of 1970

While the OSH Act was passed the final week of 1970, its enactment was the culmination of years of deliberations and legislative battles dating back to the late 19th century.

Prior to robust safety legislation, many workers, most of them young, were injured or killed on the job. State Labor Bureau reports from the 1870s and 1880s record a litany of workplace tragedies. The statistics were dismal enough to spur social reformers and the budding labor movement to call for laws that would create safer working conditions.

These efforts resulted in the first factory inspection law in the United States, enacted in Massachusetts in 1877. This required factories to implement basic safety features that are now considered standard, such as machine guards to prevent contact with the moving parts of heavy equipment, protected elevators, and suitable fire exits. By 1890, 21 states (of the 44 that were established at the time) had passed limited provisions for health hazards, 13 states mandated machine guarding, and nine states provided for factory inspectors.

In 1907, an incident in a Monongah, West Virginia coal mine resulted in the deaths of 362 workers. This spurred the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1910, an organization with the goal of promoting safety for mining workers. That same year, journalist William B. Hard published an article revealing that every year, about 1,200 out of every 10,000 workers were seriously injured or killed on the job. His efforts, combined with accident statistics compiled by U.S. Steel, led to a safety-first movement that resulted in the creation of the National Safety Council in 1915.

Another wave of occupational health and safety legislation took place in the second half of the 1960s, with Congress passing the Service Contracts Act of 1965, the Federal Construction Safety and Health Act of 1969, the 1966 Metal and Non-metallic Mine Safety Act, and the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969.

In January of 1968, President Johnson called on Congress to enact a job safety and health program, which was finally realized in 1970 with the OSH Act.

The Purpose of the OSH Act of 1970

Some key elements of the Congressional findings of the OSH Act are:

  • Findings – Work-related injuries and illnesses impose a great burden on and hinder interstate commerce in terms of lost production, medical expenses, loss of wages and compensation.
  • Purpose – To regulate interstate and foreign commerce and provide general welfare and assure every worker in the nation has safe and healthful working conditions by:
    • Encouraging employers and employees to put in efforts to reduce hazards at the workplace, institute new programs and perfect existing ones to provide safe and healthy working conditions
    • Authorizing the Secretary of Labor to set mandatory health and safety standards
    • Providing medical criteria as much as practicable such that no employee suffers diminished health or life expectancy
    • Providing for the development and promulgation of health and safety standards

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