OSHA Basics: The OSH Act

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Way back in 1970, the United States federal government passed the OSH Act. The OSH Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and all the OSHA safety regulations you’re familiar with.

We’ll tell you more about the OSH Act at the origins of today’s OSHA and the OSHA standards in this article.

This article is just one in a series of articles that we call OSHA Basics. The OSHA Basics articles cover fundamental issues related to OSHA like the OSH Act that this article covers. See the list and links at the bottom of this article for a list of our OSHA Basics articles.

Passage of the OSH Act and Creation of OSHA

US president Richard Nixon signed the bill making the OSH Act law on December 29, 1970. The OSH Act actually went into effect on April 28, 1971, and that’s the day that OSHA officially came into being.

Purpose of the OSH Act and OSHA

The reason for writing and passing the OSH Act, creating OSHA, and writing and enforcing OSHA’s regulatory standards (as well as all of OSHA’s other activities) was to improve occupational safety and health in American work places.

Congress put it this way:

…to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.

And here’s how the OSH Act itself puts it in its Section 1, Introduction:

To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.

Applicability of the OSH Act

The OSH Act applies to private-sector employees (not federal employees) in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Those jurisdictions include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands (as defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act).


Different Sections of the OSH Act

There are 34 different sections of the OSH Act. You can see a list of all the OSH Act sections here.

We’ll give you a highlight of a few of those sections below.

Section 5, Duties: This  lists duties of both the employer and employee. When you hear people talking about OSHA’s General Duty Clause, that comes from this section.

Section 6, Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Where the authority for creating OSHA’s standards comes from.

Section 8, Inspections, Investigations, and Recordkeeping: The source of OSHA’s powers to inspect and investigate workplaces as well as OSHA’s requirements that employers maintain records.

Section 9, Citations: The section of the OSH Act giving OSHA the ability to issue citations for workplace safety and health violations.

Section 18, State Jurisdictions and State Plans: The section that gives states the right to create their own state-level occupational and safety plan.

Section 21, Training and Employee Education: This section of the OSH Act covers the creation of training and other educational material for employees.

Section 22, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: The section of the OSH Act that calls for the creation of NIOSH. Check the About Us webpage at NIOSH to learn more about them.

Section 24, Statistics: This section gives OSHA the power to gather and analyze data.

Conclusion: The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

That’s our introduction of the OSH act that created OSHA. We hope you found it helpful and interesting.

If you liked this article on the OSH Act, you may be excited to know this is just one in a series of articles we’ve dubbed OSHA Basics. Scan the list below to see if there are other OSHA-based topics you’d like to know more about:

Also, please let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover in this series.

And before you leave, download our free EFFECTIVE SAFETY TRAINING GUIDE, below.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 20 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training.

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