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OSHA's 40-year History Video

History and Mission

OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). OSHA’s responsibility is worker safety and health protection. The U.S. Congress created OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act).

President Nixon and Congress passed the law that established OSHA “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.”

Optional: For more information, review this Introduction to OSHA presentation.

Important Events

The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City killed 146 of 500 employees in one of the worst work-related disasters in our country’s history.
Photo courtesy: Kheel Center, Cornell University

OSHA began because, until 1970, there were no national laws for safety and health hazards. Some events that led to the OSHA law include:

  • The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City killed 146 of 500 employees in one of the worst work-related disasters in our country’s history. Factory workers, mainly young, female immigrants working long hours for low wages, died because doors were locked and there were no fire escapes. This tragedy outraged the public, who called for safety and health reform. Frances Perkins, who later became the first Secretary of Labor, investigated the Triangle fire and tried to find ways to prevent future occurrences.
  • Production for World War I caused a crisis in workplace safety and health conditions. The government created a Working Conditions Service to help states inspect plants and reduce hazards.
  • In the 1930’s, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, additional laws increased the federal government’s role in job safety and health. But the federal role was mainly to provide service and information to state governments. By the late 1950’s, the Federal-State partnership could no longer deal with the growing workforce and increasing hazards. Additional federal laws were enacted, but only covered certain industries.

Statistics When OSHA Was Created

Although precise statistics were not kept at the time, it is estimated that around 14,000 workers were killed on the job in 1970, or 38 per day. Many thought that the only solution to was a Federal law with the same rules and enforcement for everyone.

Nixon Enacts Law

On December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the OSH Act. This Act created OSHA, the agency, which formally came into being on April 28, 1971. With the creation of OSHA, for the first time, all employers in the United States had the legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees. And, there were now uniform regulations that applied to all workplaces.

The OSH Act is also known as Public Law 91-596. It covers all private sector employers and their workers in the 50 states and all territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Employers and workers in many fields, including but not limited to manufacturing, construction, longshoring, agriculture, law, medicine, charity and disaster relief are covered by OSHA. Religious groups are covered if they employ workers for secular purposes, such as maintenance or gardening.

Rule Making Process

rule making
Click on the image to browse the rulemaking process through an easy-to follow flowchart.

Before OSHA can issue a standard, it must go through an extensive and lengthy process that includes substantial public engagement, notice and comment periods. This is known as OSHA's "rulemaking process."

Each stage contains an approximate timeline of the process, and details of the requirements OSHA has to follow before each stage can be completed. The icons on the flowchart help guide the viewer through the type of requirement - legal, internal or executive order - that dictates OSHA's actions in each stage of the process.

OSHA can begin standards-setting procedures on its own initiative or in response to petitions from other parties, including

  • The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS),
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
  • state and local governments,
  • nationally recognized standards-producing organizations and employer or labor representatives, and
  • any other interested parties.
rule coverage

Who is Not Covered by the Rules

Which groups do not come under Federal OSHA’s coverage?

  • self-employed
  • immediate members of farming families not employing outside workers
  • mine workers, certain truckers and transportation workers, and atomic energy workers who are covered by other federal agencies
  • public employees in state and local governments, although some states have their own plans that cover these workers

OSHA’s Mission

Click to Enlarge

Now that you know a little bit about why OSHA was created, let’s talk about OSHA’s mission. The mission of OSHA 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.

To achieve this, federal and state governments work together with more than 100 million working men and women and eight million employers. Some of the things OSHA does to carry out its mission are:

  • developing job safety and health standards and enforcing them through worksite inspections,
  • maintaining a reporting and recordkeeping system to keep track of job-related injuries and illnesses, and
  • providing training programs to increase knowledge about occupational safety and health.

State Plans

state plans
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OSHA also assists the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions, through OSHA- approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states.

State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA. States with approved plans cover most private sector employees as well as state and local government workers in the state.

State plan programs respond to accidents and employee complaints and conduct unannounced inspections, just like federal OSHA. Some states, such as New York, have OSHA approved plans that only cover state and local government workers.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. OSHA’s mission is to _____.

2. The creation of OSHA provided this important right to workers _____.

3. Which terrible event in 1911 that killed 146 workers resulted in public outrage and call for reforms?

4. Which of the following are not covered by Federal OSHA rules?

5. OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA are called _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.

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