This month marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency tasked with policing workplace safety conditions. OSHA was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970; the bill went into effect in April of 1971.
At the time, as OSHA director David Michaels noted in a speech today at the Center for American Progress, Republicans hailed OSHA as “the instrument of a revolutionary law,” and part of “a new right in the bill of rights”:
Passed with strong bipartisan support, President Nixon called the Occupational Safety and Health Act one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by the Congress of the United States. Dr. Morton Corn, appointed by President Ford as agency administrator, described OSHA as ‘the instrument of a revolutionary law…a new right in the bill of rights, the right to a safe and healthful workplace.’ It is hard to believe, before OSHA, workers in America did not have the basic human right to a safe workplace.
Here are Nixon’s full remarks, in which he said that “this bill could not be signed unless it had bipartisan support, Democrats and Republicans working together.” But today’s Republicans don’t reserve such kind words for OSHA.
In fact, Republicans earlier this year proposed huge cuts to OSHA’s budget that Michaels said would “have a devastating effect on all of our activities.” Republicans also blocked new regulations that would have allowed OSHA to crack down on businesses, like the Massey Energy owned Upper Big Branch Mine, that repeatedly violate workplace safety laws.
“Over the last two years, OSHA has not only attempted to implement several policy changes that would have profound impact on the workplace; it has become an administration more focused on punishment than prevention,” said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI). The continuing resolution approved earlier this month to avert a government shutdown cut OSHA’s funding by $49 million.
OSHA has, over the last few decades, helped to usher in a significant decline in workplace injuries. As Profs. David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz found, “in the past four decades, the number of deaths due to workplace accidents fell from 13,800 in 1970 to 5,657 in 2007. The total incidence rate of private sector occupational injuries and illnesses plummeted from 10.9 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.9 in 2008.” Still, every day, an average of 14 Americans are killed on the job, while 3.3 million Americans are injured or sickened in the workplace each year. And if Republicans have their way, OSHA will have less resources to combat these still-too-high numbers.