Environmental and occupational medicine, 4th edition. Rom WN, Markowitz SB, eds. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006 Dec; :1649-1661
Federal governmental regulation of occupational safety and health is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act in 1970, no nationwide law existed that protected the safety and health of American workers. Although some states had workplace safety laws, the degree of worker protection varied widely from state to state. By the late 1960s, both the business and labor communities believed that a comprehensive occupational health and safety statute was needed at the federal level. In 1968, Congress began active consideration of national occupational safety and health legislation, and on December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the Williams-Steiger OSH Act into law. In passing the OSH Act, Congress wanted "to assure, as far as possible, every working man and woman in the country safe and healthful working conditions" (1). Unlike previous federal workplace health and safety laws that regulated working conditions for specific types of occupations or industries, the OSH Act did not focus on specific industries or occupations. Instead, the OSH Act delegated responsibility for the development of specific workplace health and safety standards to the Secretary of Labor. Shortly after passage of the OSH Act, the Secretary established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a separate agency within the U.S. Department of Labor to administer all aspects of the OSH Act, including standards development and standards enforcement. The Act also mandated the creation of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support the new federal occupational safety and health scheme with scientific research, authoritative recommendations, and education for occupational safety and health professionals. Nearly 4 decades have elapsed since the passage of the OSH Act and the establishment of OSHA and NIOSH. The regulation of workplace safety and health has become a pervasive aspect of doing business in the United States. Employers, workers, labor unions, lawyers, industrial hygienists, safety professionals, occupational nurses, and physicians all face the daunting task of understanding a myriad of federal and state regulatory requirements for workplace safety, often in the absence of adequate knowledge of the overall framework of workplace safety and health law. This chapter presents an overview of the OSH Act as the centerpiece of the federal government's efforts to protect and promote the health and safety of American workers.