Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 300

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 651 et seq., a business that negligently jeopardizes the lives or health of its workers commits a federal misdemeanor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 created the LABOR DEPARTMENT's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to serve as the federal government's workplace-safety watchdog, and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) to rule on cases, forwarded to it by the Labor Department, of disagreements over the results of OSHA safety and health inspections.

The act authorizes civil fines up to $10,000 for instances where employers "willfully" expose workers to "serious" harm or death. Any act of criminal negligence can result in imprisonment of up to six months.

The Labor Department's assistant secretary for occupational safety and health has responsibility for overseeing OSHA. OSHA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and maintains ten regional offices. It develops and promulgates occupational safety and health standards and it issues regulations that enforce these standards. The essence of OSHA is its inspection responsibility. OSHA inspectors conduct investigations and inspections to determine the status of compliance with safety and health standards and regulations. If an inspector visits a work site and finds that the employer is not in compliance with OSHA regulations, the inspector issues a citation and proposes penalties.

From its inception, OSHA has been a controversial agency. Businesses have complained that OSHA regulations are often too bureaucratic, rigid, and hard to understand, making compliance difficult. Organized labor, on the other hand, has charged that OSHA is not diligent enough in enforcing the regulations.

During the administration of President RONALD REAGAN, the number of OSHA inspectors was reduced by 25 percent, making it even more difficult to investigate allegations of injuries. In addition, President Reagan, by EXECUTIVE ORDER No. 12,291 in 1981, permitted OSHA to certify that a company was in compliance with safety and health standards by reviewing paperwork submitted by the company.

OSHA standards and regulations touch every facet of workplace health and safety. The regulations establish maximum levels of exposure to lead, asbestos, chemicals, and other toxic substances, and they specify the proper safety gear for workers. For example...

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