Many of us can’t remember life before OSHA, and workman’s comp has been around in some form since the 1850s and early 1900s. How have these two policies affected the health of the American worker? Before we discuss the positive changes that have taken place since OSHA, first, let’s talk about the history of the act.
Before OSHA was enacted, the railroad industry was one of the first to introduce safety standards for their workers. Over a decade later, the U.S. government sought to protect those in the mining industry. During this time, labor unions encouraged workers’ compensation laws in individual states that supported safety measures in the workplace.
Although things improved for workers with these laws, the standards varied from state to state. And when the United States entered World War II, the number of industrial accidents soared. Companies were focused on increasing production to help the war effort and were not as concerned about workplace health and safety.
Battling for Protection
During this time, the chemical revolution introduced many unknown risks to American workers. Companies were either ignorant of the effect of some of these new chemicals or else they didn’t care.
During the 1960s, citizens starting paying more attention to the effect these new chemicals had on the environment and the American worker. Bills were introduced to protect both. Labor unions fought with the National Association of Manufacturers.
Different versions of protective measures were fought over, and the final bill that passed in 1970 was a negotiated version between the two different parties.
The final version of the Occupational Safety and Health Act made its way into federal law books in 1970. President Richard Nixon signed the act into law at the end of that year. Its main goal was to ensure that companies would provide employees with a workplace that was as hazard-free as possible.
In its original form, OSHA sought out to protect workers from toxic chemicals, excessive noise, mechanical dangers, heat or cold, or unsanitary conditions. This act was necessary because some employers determined that it was cheaper to replace a dead or injured worker than to create a safer environment.
The act also created the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
How did OSHA affect the American workplace?
Thankfully, it has made it safer.
Since 1972, only 3.3 of 100 workers are injured or become ill based on issues caused by the workplace. Before OSHA, the number was 10.9 incidents per 100 workers.
Before OSHA, an average of 38 American workers would die on the job. In 2013, that number fell to 12 deaths a day. The 2017 figures showed a slight increase in the number of deaths at 14 per day.
The construction industry was responsible for 20.7% of those American deaths in 2017. Out of the 971 deaths in 2017, 381 were caused by falls. Eighty of the deaths were caused when an object struck the worker. Electrocutions caused 71 deaths, and the rest of the workers who died that year were either caught or compressed between two objects or pieces of equipment.
Even though the construction industry is responsible for one-fifth of work-related deaths, the fishing industry is still considered the most dangerous. Logging workers and pilots follow. Roofers and refuse collectors finish the list of the top five most hazardous American jobs.
Other Harmful Occupations
Other potentially harmful occupations include structural iron and steel workers, truck drivers, farmers and ranchers, landscaping workers, and electrical power-line installers and repairers.
The OSHA budget in 2017 was around $550 million. OSHA has ten regional offices and 85 local area offices.
Even though the OSHA budget is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, inspectors cannot be everywhere at once. The most common standard that is frequently cited is fall protection within the construction industry. Companies are also not meeting the hazard communication standard and scaffolding standards as well. General industries are cited for not following respirator protection and control of hazardous energy.
As a part of OSHA, employers cannot discharge, retaliate against, or discriminate against any worker who exercises his or her rights under the act. If you have received negative backlash as the result of standing up for your own rights at work, you may consider reaching out to an attorney.
If you were injured while at work, or you lost a loved one because of a workplace accident, you may receive compensation. Reach out to a trusted attorney to help you with the litigation process.