Everybody, particularly those in labor-intensive or potentially dangerous occupations, are entitled to a safe workplace. To this end, United States law requires employers to provide working conditions to their employees that are free of known dangers, as well as prevents them from retaliating against employees who exercise their workplace rights. The agency responsible for enforcing such regulations is called the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is better known as the OSHA.
Functioning as an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA came into existence on April 28, 1971, as a result of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) becoming effective. The organization came into existence with the purpose in mind of ensuring that employers provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards that include mechanical dangers, unsanitary conditions, exposure to toxic chemicals, and excessive noise levels.
Workplace Safety Standards and Practices
Until the creation of the OSHA, efforts by the U.S. federal government to ensure workplace safety and health were, at best, minimal. However, with the advent of OSHA, employees were protected by the Whistleblower Protection Program. This system enforces the whistleblower provisions of over 20 statutes that address violations of OSH guidelines for a variety of sectors. Employees—or even employers—can also report a work-related injury, illness or fatality. OSHA sends Compliance Safety and Health Officers to workplaces for routine enforcement of the agency’s guidelines. These representatives conduct inspections and assess fines if there has been a regulatory violation. Compliance Safety and Health Officers can also appear in response to employee complaints or workplace incidents.
Every year since 1994, OSHA has released a report called the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). In the 1994 survey, a grand total of 6.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported, resulting in a rate of 8.4 cases for every group of 100 full-time workers. Since that inaugural SOII, the numbers have been declining significantly, with the lone exception of 2011. In 2012, the number of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses had dropped to 3 million, which equaled to 3.4 cases per 100 full-time workers. The same pattern of declining numbers apply to fatal injuries and illnesses, based on the findings from its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, or CFOI. In 1992, the SOII reported 6,217 deaths resulting from workplace injuries or illnesses.
By 2012, that number had dropped to 4,383. In several SOII reports, it was noted that people working in manufacturing or industries that require substantial physical work were the most likely to get injured. However, it isn’t one hundred percent clear whether the drop in workplace related injuries was due to OSHA regulations or simply due to workplace safety awareness.