Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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Not to be confused with EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. For other uses, see OSHA (disambiguation).
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Agency overview
Formed 1971
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Employees 2,305 (2012)[1]
Annual budget $565 million (2012)[1]
Agency executive David Michaels, Assistant Secretary
Website www.osha.gov

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 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 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[edit]

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]

Complaint reporting system[edit]

Those authorized to report workplace safety issues include:

  • Workers, or their representatives such as a certified or recognized labor organization, may file a complaint and ask OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA standards. https://www.osha.gov/workers.html#2
  • An attorney acting for an employee.
  • Any other person acting in a bona fide representative capacity, including, but not limited to, members of the clergy, social workers, spouses and other family members, and government officials or nonprofit groups and organizations acting upon specific complaints and injuries from individuals who are employees.[7]


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.[13]

Whistleblower laws[edit]

In addition to enforcing regulations issued under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA is also responsible for enforcing whistleblower provisions of 21 statutes.[14] 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[edit]

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.[15]


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.[16][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 40 years of existence, OSHA has secured only 12 criminal convictions.[17]

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:[18]

"[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 be pestered. In some instances, industry has to be pestered in order to comply.' "

See also[edit]


Department of Labor Budget in Brief, FY2013

External links[edit]