Many people associate OSHA with ergonomics, the study of the mechanics of work. In reality, OSHA’s purpose goes far beyond comfortable chairs and keyboard wrist supports. OSHA’s purpose is to preserve the health and safety of workers in every private organization across the country.
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Why was OSHA Created?
In the late 1960’s America was faced with the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the fight for gender equality in the workplace. Compounding social changes was the rising number and severity of workplace injuries, especially those resulting in the death of innocent workers. In the 1960’s, more than 14,000 people were killed on the job while the number of people of disabling injuries had increased 20 percent over the course of a decade. In response, President Richard M Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law. Not only did this act establish guidelines for ensuring workplace safety, but it also established three agencies – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). While OSHA is charged with setting and enforcing health and safety standards, NIOSH researches best practices, harmful chemicals and safety procedures and OSHRC adjudicates enforcement actions that are challenged by employers accused of wrongdoing.
In the early days, OSHA focused on best practices and voluntary cooperation by businesses. To encourage this, they established free consultation programs and offered grant money to develop safety training procedures. As the agency’s influence grew, it also moved to provide a mix of enforcement of regulations, education and training, consultation, and standardization of safety practices.
What does OSHA do?
Today, OSHA maintains the balance between research, enforcement, training, consultation, and standardization. OSHA still creates regulation and enforces laws that govern workplace safety. They also investigate reports of unsafe conditions, equipment or practices. With the advent of computer technology and the internet, everyone has access to OSHA materials, company incident reports, safety records, and incident reporting procedures. As employees are becoming more familiar with their rights under OSHA regulations, field offices dot the country to allow inspectors to respond promptly. Their proximity also helps them consult with safety trainers to create training that helps workers do their job safely and effectively.
What Responsibility does OSHA Place on Employers?
Even though an OSHA representative is not often present on a day-to-day basis, its influence is felt in the day-to-day work of most employers across the country. Companies are required to post OSHA reporting practices if an employee witnesses something unsafe. They must have OSHA approved first aid supplies on the premises as well as an emergency preparedness plan. They must respond to an employee’s request for injury and illness records. They must comply with OSHA inspectors’ requests. They must train new employees on safety procedures to ensure they can do their job effectively.
Most of all, OSHA is continually working with NIOSH to create new regulations that ensure the safety of employees. While most organizations want to keep their employees safe, OSHA ensures that the right information reaches the right people in a timely manner.