OSHA at 50
50 Years of Workplace Safety and Health
President Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Act on December 29, 1970.
In its first half century, OSHA has helped transform America's workplaces in ways that have significantly reduced workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. Learn more about the agency's five decades of progress and its efforts to continue fulfilling the promise of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA opens its doors on April 28, 1971. During its initial decade, OSHA issued the first standards for asbestos, lead, carcinogens, and cotton dust. The OSHA Training Institute, safety and health training grants, the On-Site Consultation Program, State Plans, and whistleblower protections for workplace safety are also established.
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirms that workers have the right to refuse unsafe tasks. OSHA issues standards to give workers the right to know which chemicals they may be exposed to and require employers to provide worker medical and exposure records. The 1980s also see the creation of the Voluntary Protection Programs, new standards on safety testing and certification of workplace equipment, and important worker protections for combustible grain dust, trenching, noise, and hazardous energy.
OSHA issues the Process Safety Management standard and provides new and stronger protections for workers from falls, bloodborne pathogens, toxic substances, and working in confined spaces, longshoring and marine terminals, and laboratories. Workers begin to receive safety and health training through the first OSHA Education Centers, and the agency expands collaboration with employers through its Strategic Partnership Program.
Dedicated OSHA staff worked beside their federal, state, and local partners to protect the safety and health of the recovery workers after the unprecedented challenges America's workers faced following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Workplace safety continues to improve through new standards to protect construction workers in steel erection and prevent exposure to hexavalent chromium.
2010s and Beyond
OSHA helps protect workers performing response and cleanup activities in the aftermath of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The agency issues standards for silica dust, cranes, confined spaces, and the classification and labeling of work-related chemicals. To address the number one cause of worker fatalities in the construction industry, OSHA launches the fall prevention campaign. And in 2020, OSHA launches historic response to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 and Beyond
The new decade began with a challenge unlike any other faced by the American workforce as the coronavirus pandemic impacted workplace safety and health in unprecedented ways. OSHA acted quickly to protect the nation's workers through outreach and education efforts, ensuring compliance with agency standards, and collaborations with federal, state, and local authorities. The agency continues to work tirelessly to address the demands of this evolving health crisis.
Even with the dramatic improvements to workplace safety over the last five decades – and now with the nation responding to a global pandemic – OSHA's mission is as important as ever. Please join OSHA in making a renewed commitment to keeping workers safe and healthy - it's every worker's right.