Introduction Workplace safety is a commonly used phrase that many do not consider until an accident occurs within the workplace. Throughout the U.S., workplace injuries occur on a daily basis. This has been an issue in the workforce for many years and is still an ongoing issue. Are there laws that protect employees from an unsafe work environment; what is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); and how did the labor unions affect the law?

In this paper these following questions will be addressed, as well as the background and driving force of OSHA. Definition of the OSHA Law According to the OSHA website, web, retrieved August 27, 2004, it states "OSHA's mission is to assure the safety and health of America's workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health". In addition, as of the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, each employer shall furnish his employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause and / or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees; before the enactment employers were only bound by common law to provide a safe work environment for its employees. OSHA also enforces that employees are not exempt and shall comply with occupational safety and health standards under this Act.

Employee conduct, must comply with the OSHA rules and regulations and orders which are applicable to their own action and conduct (Bennett-Alexander-Hartman: Employment Law for Business, Fourth Edition, p 690 p. 2-3). Background and Driving Force Getting started, the impetus to OSHA was to develop a new safety and or health standard in the workforce. Congress collected information indicating the status quo in the working environment included unacceptable hazards in the workplace. The OSHA act was passed through congress based on a series of information collected through sources such as the Department of Health and Human Services' (DHHS); National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Substances Control Act (TOSCA) referral; public petitions; or requests from OSHA advisory committees. Empowered with the knowledge of existing workplace hazards and the awareness of the lack of legislation requiring employee / employer protection, a goal was established to reduce work place injuries.

The OSHA advisory committee proposed the act and it was passed through Congress in 1971. "Since its inception in 1971, OSHA has helped to cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent". (web). In effort to reduce work place injuries, OSHA has also established processes intended to shorten the rule making timetable and discourage legal challenges to the final standard, while at the same time providing for full public comment on the issue. This collaborative effort has been well received as in the best interest of everyone. Union Impact While the rate of workplace fatalities and occupational injuries and illnesses have dropped, the United States employment market has doubled from 56 million workers at 3.5 million work sites to more than 115 million workers at 7.1 million sites. In Fiscal Year 2004, OSHA has an authorized staff of 2,220, including 1,123 inspectors, with a budget of $457.5 million (web).

Prior to President Nixon signing the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law on December 29, 1970 (Bennett, Alexander & Hartmann, p. 692), American employees had no national standards or reliable enforcement of safety in the workplace. Workers and their families could sue, but three common-law defenses provided broad relief to the employer. The first of these defenses, "contributory negligence", purports that the employee fails to exercise caution, thereby being negligent in his own injury. "Assumption of risk" involves a worker proceeding where a known risk is present. When a co-worker is the cause of the injury, the employer would claim the "fellow servant rule" (Bennett, Alexander & Hartmann, p. 691).

This act does not absolve the employee of all responsibility, but it puts the burden of the safety in the workplace back on the employer, where it belongs. A litany of injustices compelled employees to create unions, and unions recognized the value of a nationalized safety act. Both famed individual union members, like Karen Silk wood, who were martyred in their cause, as well as countless others, worked tirelessly to expose dangers to unsuspecting employees unknowingly harmed by the dangers they could not see. Unions made safety in the workplace one of their signature causes through the 1960's and 1970's and were instrumental in lobbying to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act and form OSHA (web).

Today unions are still closely connected to workplace safety and are very personally involved, watching legislative decisions, protesting presidential nominees and lobbying. Conclusion While workplace safety and health standards have improved due to OSHA, the mission of the Act is still being carried out for America's workers. Both employers and employees are responsible to be in compliance with the Act's rules and regulations.


University of Phoenix. (Ed. ). 2004.
Employment Law [University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-Resource]. Bennett-Alexander-Hartman: Employment Law for Business, Fourth Edition. Retrieved August 27, 2004, from University of Phoenix, Resource, MGT/434-Employment Law Web site: web Home Page August 27, 2004.
web from web on Monday, August 30 University of Phoenix. (Ed. ). 2004.
Retrieved August 32, 2004, from University of Phoenix, Resource, MGT/434-Employment Law Web site: web.