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OSHA at 50

It’s hard to believe the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has been around for 50 years. If you’re interested in knowing how OSHA came about and how it has changed over the past 50 years, read on.


1970 - OSHA Founded

In 1970, the United States Congress and President Nixon passed the OSHA Act and created OSHA, a national public health agency dedicated to the basic premise that every worker in the US has the right to a safe workplace. The OSHA Act was passed with bipartisan support. OSHA’s efforts have been exceptional by greatly reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Common-Sense Standards

OSHA, part of the Department of Labor (DOL), has established and enforced common-sense standards and taken on fatal safety hazards and health risks. OSHA’s standards, enforcement actions, compliance assistance, and cooperative programs have saved thousands of lives and prevented countless injuries and illnesses over the past 50 years. Their mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

Asbestos Standard

In the 1970s we saw OSHA’s first standard on asbestos. 

Training Institute Established

The OSHA Training Institute was established to train compliance officers, federal personnel, and the general public on workplace safety and health.

Supreme Court Weighs In

The U.S. Supreme affirmed that workers have the right to refuse unsafe tasks.

The Voluntary Protection Programs, new standards on safety testing and certification of workplace equipment, and important worker protections for combustible grain dust, trenching, noise, and hazardous energy all came about in the 1980s.

HazCom Standard Enacted

 In 1983, OSHA’s important Hazard Communication Standard—a worker’s right to know which chemicals they may be exposed to in the workplace—was enacted.

OSHA Education Centers

The 1990s saw workers beginning to receive safety and health training through the first OSHA Education Centers

Strategic Partnerships

The agency expanded collaboration with employers through its Strategic Partnership Program. Fall protection standards were also implemented in the 1990s.

Fire Protection in Shipyard Employment was implemented and employers were  required to provide their employees with appropriate personal protective equipment “PPE”

Fall Prevention

OSHA addresses the number one cause of worker fatalities —deaths resulting from falls— by launching the fall prevention campaign.

A New Administration

As a new administration took over the White House, President Joe Biden appointed new officials.Doug Parker, the former head of Cal/OSHA was nominated by Biden on April 9, 2021 to lead OSHA, Parker is stepping into the most pressurized and politicized atmosphere in the agency’s 50-year history. A time when the number of OSHA inspectors is at an all time low due to retirements. However, president Biden plans to double the number of inspectors.

50 Years of Achievements

Some of OSHA’s major achievements over the past 50 years include the 1978 cotton dust standard that reduced worker fatalities by 90%, and the nationwide observances they have led like the Annual Trench Safety Stand-Down and Fall Prevention Stand-Down that reach hundreds of thousands of workers with important safety messages. In recent years, OSHA has issued standards for silica dust, cranes, confined spaces, and the classification and labeling of work-related chemicals.

OSHA has worked diligently throughout the decades to improve workplace safety but they still have work to do, but they have significantly reduced accidents and worker deaths by 60% since the early days of OSHA. OSHA’s mission is more important now than ever and they will continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of our nation’s workers, their families and their communities.

If You’re Reading This, OSHA’s Probably a Big Part of Your Work Life

KPA can help make living with OSHA, almost downright pleasant. KPA consultants have tons of experience working with OSHA inspectors (some filled their shoes themselves!) Got more questions regarding OSHA inspections and internal compliance audits we’re happy to answer them.

About The Author

Toby Graham

Toby manages the marketing communications team here at KPA. She's on a quest to help people tell clear, fun stories that their audience can relate to. She's a HUGE sugar junkie...and usually starts wandering the halls looking for cookies around 3pm daily.

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