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What are Occupational Health Regulations?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 17, 2024
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Occupational health regulations are issued in the United States pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was also created by that act. They are intended to promote the safety and health of workers and generally require employers to provide a work environment free from known hazard, or to provide reasonable protection against those hazards in the workplace.

The enactment of occupational safety and health legislation by the US government was controversial for two major reasons. First, some claimed that the government had no authority under the Constitution to monitor and regulate conditions in the workplace, and second, it was predicted that the promulgation of occupational health regulations was predicted to cause irreparable damage to most companies' profitability and thus to the American economy.

The Act itself covers a great many workplace issues, but generally requires a four-part test of a hazard before OSHA may regulate it: 1) There must be a hazard; 2) It must be a recognized hazard; 3) The hazard may potentially cause or is likely to cause grave harm or death; and 4) The hazard must be fixable. There are many situations that could be considered a hazard, which don't meet these four criteria, and so it's difficult for OSHA to promulgate comprehensive regulations that completely protect workers.

OSHA is an agency of the US Department of Labor, and its leadership is appointed by the president, making its agenda and daily operations politically charged. Before issuing any occupational health regulations, OSHA solicits input from interested parties and conducts hearings for the same purpose. The development of most occupational health regulations is the subject of intense negotiations involving political, business and labor. Nevertheless, a cursory review of the occupational health regulations issued by OSHA, which have the force of law, reveals a bewildering array of topics covering seemingly every aspect of human employment.

OSHA has had a dramatic impact on American industrial life. Before the passage of the act in 1970 and the creation of OSHA, there were more than 14,000 deaths annually resulting from industrial accidents and workplace hazards, and more than 2 million injuries. Statistics on fatalities in the workplace have been kept in their modern form since 1992, and indicate that in the following 15 years, fatalities in the workplace declined over 20%, and even as the American workforce has grown, fatalities in the 21st century have remained fewer than 6,000 per year.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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