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Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by President Richard M. Nixon on December 29, 1970. Its mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

Its statutory authority extends to most nongovernmental workplaces where there are employees. State and local government workers are excluded from Federal coverage, however, states operating their own state workplace safety and health programs under plans approved by the U.S. Department of Labor cover most private sector workers and are also required to extend their coverage to public sector (state and local government) workers in the state. Section 2 (11) of the OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own state OSH programs.

OSHA regulations [29 CFR Part 1956] also permit states without approved plans to develop plans that cover only public sector workers. In these states, private sector employment remains under Federal OSHA jurisdiction. Twenty-two states and territories operate plans covering both the public and private sectors and four states - Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands - operate public employee only plans.

OSHA was widely criticized in its early years for confusing, burdensome regulations. There were many rules that defied common sense, and many more that conflicted with requirements of other agencies. A good deal of conflict came about because businesses were expected to retrofit guards and other safety devices on existing equipment, often at considerable expense.

With time, manufacturers of industrial equipment have included OSHA-compliant safety features on new machinery. Enforcement has become more consistent across jurisdictions, and some of the more ridiculous rules have been repealed. While there are still disagreements between business owners and OSHA, they are less frequent.

Here are some of the major changes in industrial safety brought about by OSHA:

  1. Guards on all moving parts - By 1970, there were guards to prevent inadvertent contact with most moving parts that were accessible in the normal course of operation. With OSHA, use of guards was expanded to cover essentially all parts where contact is possible.
  2. Permissible Exposure Levels - Maximum concentrations of chemicals stipulated by law for chemicals and dusts
  3. Personal Protective Equipment - broader use of respirators, gloves, coveralls, and other protective equipment when handling hazardous chemicals; goggles, faceshieds, ear protection in typical industrial environments
  4. Lockout/Tagout - In the 1980s, requirements for locking out energy sources in an "off" condition when performing repairs or maintenance
  5. Confined space - In the 1990s, specific requirements for air sampling and use of a "buddy system" when working inside tanks, manholes, pits, bins, and similar enclosed areas

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