Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Agency overview
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Employees2,305 (2012)[1]
Annual budget$565 million (2012)[1]
Agency executiveDavid Michaels, Assistant Secretary
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Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Agency overview
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Employees2,305 (2012)[1]
Annual budget$565 million (2012)[1]
Agency executiveDavid Michaels, Assistant Secretary

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. Congress established the agency under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which President Richard M. Nixon signed into law on December 29, 1970. OSHA's mission is to "assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance".[2] The agency is also charged with enforcing a variety of whistleblower statutes and regulations. OSHA is currently headed by Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels.



OSHA officially formed on April 28, 1971, the date that the OSH Act became effective.[3] George Guenther was appointed as the agency's first director.

OSHA has developed a number of training, compliance assistance, and health and safety recognition programs throughout its history. The OSHA Training Institute, which trains government and private sector health and safety personnel, began in 1972.[3] In 1978, the agency began a grantmaking program, now called the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, to train workers and employers in reducing workplace hazards.[3] OSHA started the Voluntary Protection Programs in 1982, which allows employers to apply as "model workplaces" to achieve special designation if they meet certain requirements.[3]

Health and safety standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Act allows OSHA to issue workplace health and safety regulations. These regulations include limits on chemical exposure, employee access to information, requirements for the use of personal protective equipment, and requirements for safety procedures.

In its first year of operation, OSHA was permitted to adopt regulations based on guidelines set by certain standards organizations, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, without going through all of the requirements of a typical rulemaking.

In 2000, OSHA issued an ergonomics standard. In March 2001,Congress voted to repeal the standard through the Congressional Review Act. The repeal, one of the first major pieces of legislation signed by President George W. Bush, is the only instance that Congress has successfully used the Congressional Review Act to block a regulation.

Between 2001 and 2011, OSHA has issued just four new health and safety standards; during this period, the agency has promulgated regulations at a far slower rate than during any other decade in the agency's history.[4]


OSHA is responsible for enforcing its standards on regulated entities. The agency sends Compliance Safety and Health Officers to work sites, where they carry out inspections and assess fines for regulatory violations. Inspections are planned for work sites in particularly hazardous industries. Inspections can also result in response to workplace incidents, worker complaints or referrals by other individuals.

OSHA covers approximately 7 million workplaces.[5] According to a report by AFL–CIO, it would take OSHA 129 years to inspect all workplaces under its jurisdiction.[6]


Certain workplaces are exempted from OSHA inspections because they fall outside of the scope of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, are regulated by other agencies, or are exempted through Department of Labor appropriations bills.

Exempted workers include:

Additionally, workplaces participating in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs are exempted from programmatic inspections, though they can still be subject to accident-, complaint-, or referral-initiated inspections.[12]

Whistleblower laws

In addition to enforcing regulations issued under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA is also responsible for enforcing whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes.[13] Over the years, Congress has designated OSHA as responsible for enforcing these laws, regardless of their relationship to occupational safety and health matters. Most recently, Congress designated OSHA as the agency responsible for enforcing the whistleblower provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

State plans

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, U.S. states and territories are permitted to adopt federally approved occupational safety and health plans. These plans, which replace federal OSHA enforcement and receive partial funding from the federal government, are required to be at least as effective in protecting workers as OSHA. They are also required to cover public sector employees (federal OSHA does not cover such workers). Twenty-two states administer occupational safety and health plans. An additional five jurisdictions, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and the Virgin Islands, have occupational safety and health plans that exclusively cover public sector workers and do not supplant federal OSHA in private sector enforcement.[14]


Much of the debate about OSHA regulations and enforcement policies revolves around the cost of regulations and enforcement, versus the actual benefit in reduced worker injury, illness and death. A 1995 study of several OSHA standards by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)[1] found that regulated industries as well as OSHA typically overestimate the expected cost of proposed OSHA standards.

OSHA has come under considerable criticism for the ineffectiveness of its penalties, particularly its criminal penalties. The maximum penalty is a misdemeanor with a maximum of 6-months in jail.[15][dubious ] In response to the criticism, OSHA, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, has pursued several high-profile criminal prosecutions for violations under the Act, and has announced a joint enforcement initiative between OSHA and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has the ability to issue much higher fines than OSHA. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats, labor unions and community safety and health advocates are attempting to revise the OSH Act to make it a felony with much higher penalties to commit a willful violation that results in the death of a worker. Some local prosecutors are charging company executives with manslaughter and other felonies when criminal negligence leads to the death of a worker[citation needed].

During its more than 30 years of existence, OSHA has secured only 12 criminal convictions.[16]

OSHA has been accused of being more devoted to the numbers of inspections than to actual safety. Industry associations and unions have resorted to court action to force OSHA to promulgate new standards such as the Hexavalent Chromium standard. OSHA has also been criticized for taking decades to develop new regulations. Speaking about OSHA on the specific issue of combustible dust explosions:[17]

"[Carolyn] Merritt was appointed to the Chemical Safety Board by President Bush. Asked what her experience has been with regard to safety regulations in the Bush administration, Merritt says, 'The basic disappointment has been this attitude of no new regulation. They don't want industry to not be pestered. In some instances, industry has to be pestered in order to comply.' "

Classifying formaldehyde as a carcinogen

In 1981, a panel within OSHA decided that there was insufficient evidence to classify formaldehyde as a carcinogen; OSHA had previously classified the chemical as a potential carcinogen.[18] Dr. Peter Infante, head of the OSHA department in charge of identifying carcinogens, criticized the panel's decision in a letter to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.[18] After lobbying by formaldehyde industry groups, OSHA administrators accused Infante of insubordination and proposed his firing. The proposed firing resulted in several congressional hearings.[18] Infante did not ultimately lose his job as a result of the letter.

Protecting OSHA inspectors from beryllium

Beryllium is a toxic metal that can cause immune sensitization, chronic beryllium disease, and cancer, with effects occurring in some people at very low levels of exposure. In 2002, OSHA administrators voted down a proposal to test OSHA inspectors for signs of beryllium sensitization. Dr. Adam Finkel, then director of the OSHA department responsible for setting health standards, opposed the administration’s rejection of the testing. Finkel was demoted after voicing his concerns in a trade publication.[19] He received a settlement from the agency after bringing a whistleblower case against it. OSHA tested some of its inspectors for beryllium sensitization in 2004; 3.7% of the inspectors tested positive.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Department of Labor Budget in Brief, FY2013". Department of Labor. http://www.dol.gov/dol/budget/2013/PDF/FY2013BIB.pdf.
  2. ^ "About OSHA". http://www.osha.gov/about.html.
  3. ^ a b c d "OSHA History". http://www.osha.gov/history/OSHA_HISTORY_3360s.pdf.
  4. ^ Feldman, Justin (2011-11), "OSHA Inaction", Public Citizen, http://www.citizen.org/documents/osha-inaction.pdf, retrieved 2012-02-19
  5. ^ Michaels, David. "OSHA at 40". OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=SPEECHES&p_id=2500.
  6. ^ "Death on the Job: the Toll of Neglect. 20th Edition, 2011.". AFL-CIO. http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/upload/dotj_2011.pdf.
  7. ^ "OSHA Enforcement Landing Page". http://www.osha.gov/dep/index.html.
  8. ^ "Enforcement Guidance for the U.S. Postal Service". OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=2253.
  9. ^ "Policy as to domestic household employment activities in private residences". OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=11329.
  10. ^ "Safety and Health in the Aviation Industry". OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=283&p_table=MOU.
  11. ^ "Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations Act". OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=1519.
  12. ^ Hamby, Chris. "OSHA acknowledges database of fatal accidents incomplete". Center for Public Integrity. http://www.iwatchnews.org/2011/11/04/7271/osha-acknowledges-database-fatal-accidents-incomplete.
  13. ^ "Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program". http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
  14. ^ "State Occupational Safety and Health Plans". http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/.
  15. ^ "OSHA Administrative Penalty Information Bulletin". http://www.osha.gov/dep/administrative-penalty.html.
  16. ^ Justice Dept Drops Most Criminal OSHA Referrals
  17. ^ Pelley, Scott (2008-06-08). "Is Enough Done To Stop Explosive Dust?". 60 Minutes (CBSnews.com). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/06/05/60minutes/main4157170.shtml. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
  18. ^ a b c Sun, M (Aug. 7). "A firing over formaldehyde". Science 213 (4508): 630–631. doi:10.1126/science.7256260.
  19. ^ a b Bass, Carole. "Whistle-Blower: Agency Tasked with Protecting American Workers Fails to Protect its Own". Alternet. http://www.alternet.org/economy/91627/whistle-blower:_agency_tasked_with_protecting_american_workers_fails_to_protect_its_own.

Department of Labor Budget in Brief, FY2013

External links