Occupational Safety and Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), often referred to as the "OSH Act," was enacted in 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon. Its purpose is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for men and women (EPA, 2006). The Act is administered and enforced at the national level by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the US Department of Labor.

The application of the OSH Act in the current employment climate will be discussed as it applies to a variety of industries; considerations that are most applicable to the specific type of industry will be discussed initially, and those that are equally important regardless of the type of business will complete the section. Finally, this paper will discuss how the OSH act evolved from organized labor activities to federal law and its widespread national application.

OSHA guidelines affect all companies engaged in the employment of individuals to perform work. One might assume that strictly administrative or "office work" environments are not significantly affected by OSHA regulations, but the contrary is true. Corporate offices must ensure that building standards meet code limitations; condemned buildings are typically not sanctioned as appropriate locations in which to conduct business. Additionally, if the building in which a company operates is more than 20 years old, it must ensure that no harmful asbestos exists anywhere within the structure.

It is the business owners' responsibility to ensure that inspections for the presence of asbestos are performed, and it is the company's responsibility to have it removed (OSHA) Other factors such enterprises must address involve fall prevention. For example, electrical cords must be secured and floors must be free from protruding nails, splinters, and holes. For example, a company that allows the carpets in its premises to degrade to the point at which holes form, thereby introducing the risk of falls, is most certainly violating OSHA regulations.

These requirements fall under the "Housekeeping" section of OSHA's general requirements. Other significant considerations include air quality, lighting considerations, and noise exposure. Conscientious employers address air quality concerns by ensuring that routine maintenance for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units occurs at regularly scheduled intervals, and that filters or pads are replaced according to manufacturer's specifications. Inadequate or inappropriate lighting has been recently associated with migraine and vision disorders in some individuals (Berkley, 2006).

Employers must ensure that the lighting used in work environments meets OSHA standards of brightness, spectrum, and stability (non-flickering). Excessive noise in an office environment can be generated by a number of factors including copy machines, computer servers, printers, and mail processing machines. Business leaders must ensure that the noise produced by this equipment is within acceptable limitations or that employees are provided with protective equipment. Organizations involved with the delivery of healthcare to humans or animals must observe a wider variety of regulations under OSHA than office-type work environments.

The most primary issues to which hospitals and veterinary clinics usually commit the most resources are procedures regarding blood-borne pathogens, needle and sharp instrument handling, communicable disease prevention, and the procedures involved in the dispensing of dangerous drugs and controlled substances.

Most hospitals ensure that employees who may be exposed to bloodborne pathogens (such as HIV and Hepatitis B) receive extensive initial and ongoing training to mitigate the risk posed by such exposure. OSHA requires that such industries establish an Exposure Control Plan which is updated annually and is available to all employees (OSHA, 2006). In recognition of the devastating effects of exposure, most modern hospitals commit significant resources to procuring new technology designed to reduce exposure risk.

All hospitals are required by OSHA regulations to maintain detailed logs of needle and sharp object injuries. In order to minimize the occurrence of such injuries, most hospitals, vet clinics, and doctor's offices install sharp object disposal containers specifically designed to prevent injury. Employees who are injured by such objects in the course of performing their jobs can usually avail themselves of prophylactic treatments in order to reduce the risk of contracting disease.

Communicable diseases such as Tuberculosis are a risk faced by many healthcare providers. Most hospitals provide healthcare professionals with personal protective equipment including masks, gloves, foot covers, and full body suits to be used in situations of varying severity. Since the failure to adequately provide for the protection of employees in these situations carries severe financial, social, and internal liabilities, most hospitals place significant emphasis on providing the appropriate equipment and training employees in its use.

Finally, hospitals, veterinary clinics, and pharmacies face a unique set of risks introduced by the dispensing and distribution of drugs. Some substances can be harmful to the healthcare provider who administers them; drugs falling into this category include chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy treatments.

Most hospitals require ongoing training and continuous performance monitoring of employees who provide these drugs to patients; furthermore, detailed handling and disposal procedures are carefully followed to ensure that OSHA guidelines are adhered to at all times. Finally, healthcare delivery systems regularly dispense controlled substances; as such, they are exposed to the risk of theft and violence at the hands of desperate addicts.

The most progressive hospitals and pharmacies have begun to mitigate this risk by minimizing human contact with the drugs; this is most commonly being accomplished by installing robotic drug dispensing systems such as the Rosie robot from McKesson Pharmaceuticals. The robot is installed in a highly secured environment, and drugs are dispensed with 100 percent accuracy to the appropriate patients. Human contact occurs only at the delivery point.

Some of the most high-profile OSHA guidelines that affect all industries regardless of sector include back injury prevention, fire prevention and procedures, repetitive strain injury prevention, and hazardous materials handling. Most progressive, responsible employers take measures to ensure that employees, who in the course of their daily tasks must lift objects in excess of 10 pounds, receive back injury prevention and or lumbar support devices. Similarly, most companies put policies and procedures in place to minimize fire hazards and to provide employees with crucial building evacuation routes.

Many companies even practice fire evacuation drills on a regular basis. Repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome are becoming more common in the modern workplace. Some of the measures employers often take to reduce the occurrence of these include ergonomic evaluations and workstation modification, awareness training, and providing simple preventive equipment such as keyboard wrist rests, trackball mice, and split keyboards.

Most individuals can easily associate hazardous materials handling with farming, healthcare, extermination, and manufacturing industries; however, many people are surprised to learn that those working in strictly office or corporate settings are often exposed to hazardous chemicals. In the industries mentioned above, employers usually provide protective gear, training, and strictly enforce handling procedures to comply with OSHA guidelines. However, the "hidden" exposure of office workers is not commonly known of or addressed.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals in the office environment occurs in the use of dry erase and permanent markers, correction fluid, printer and copier toner, adhesives, and cleaning fluids used by maintenance workers. Since the dangers of this type of exposure are relatively unknown (CSB, 2005), most employers have not instituted any measures to raise awareness or protect employees from harm.

Describe the impetus of OSHA and how it evolved from organized labor activity to more widespread application.

The late '60s was a turbulent time in America. The nation faced serious concerns both abroad and at home. Civil rights, women's rights, Vietnam, and the environment all demanded the country's attention.

At the same time, occupational injuries and illnesses were increasing in both number and severity. Disabling injuries increased 20 percent during the decade, and 14,000 workers were dying on the job each year. In pressing for prompt passage of workplace safety and health legislation, New Jersey Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. said, "The knowledge that the industrial accident situation is deteriorating, rather than improving, underscores the need for action now." He called attention to the need to protect workers against such hazards as noise, cotton dust, and asbestos, all now covered by OSHA standards.

In the House, Representative William A. Steiger worked for passage of a bill. "In the last 25 years, more than 400,000 Americans were killed by work-related accidents and disease, and close to 50 million more suffered disabling injuries on the job," he pointed out during the debate. "Not only has this resulted in incalculable pain and suffering for workers and their families, but such injuries have cost billions of dollars in lost wages and production."

On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, also known as the Williams-Steiger Act in honor of the two men who pressed so hard for its passage.

The Act established three permanent agencies: •the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Labor Department to set and enforce workplace safety and health standards; •the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to conduct research on occupational safety and health; and •the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an independent agency to adjudicate enforcement actions challenged by employers.

Known initially as "the safety bill of rights," the OSH Act charged OSHA with assuring safe and healthful conditions for working men and women. From its earliest days, OSHA was a small agency with a big mission. When the agency opened for business in April 1971, OSHA covered 56 million workers at 3.5 million workplaces. Today, 105 million private-sector workers and employers at 6.9 million sites look to OSHA for guidance on workplace safety and health issues.

OSHA was created because of public outcry against rising injury and death rates on the job. Through the years the agency has focused its resources where they can have the greatest impact in reducing injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.

OSHA's enforcement strategy has evolved from initially targeting a few problem industries to zeroing in on high-hazard industries and more recently, pinpointing specific sites with high injury rates. Education and outreach have played important roles in dealing with virtually every safety or health issue. In the early 1980s, OSHA worked to refine its inspection targeting system to zero in on the most hazardous companies within the most hazardous industries. On arrival at a workplace, OSHA inspectors would review an em-ployer's injury records. Employers with injury rates at or below average were exempted from inspection.

In 1986, OSHA adopted a policy of imposing instance-by-instance penalties on companies with egregious violations, significantly raising penalties for companies with many willful violations. The agency continued to refine its inspection targeting system to focus on serious violators, proposing sizable penalties when inspectors found sites where safety and health problems were most serious.

OSHA looked more closely at ergonomics and published guide-lines for the meatpacking industry. In 1990, Congress increased maximum penalties for OSHA violations from $1,000 to $7,000 for serious violations and from $10,000 to $70,000 for willful and repeat violations.

The agency launched an Internet webpage in the early 1990s, significantly expanding its offerings in 1995 to include all regulations, compliance directives, Federal Register notices and many additional materials as well as links to other safety and health re-sources. OSHA's interactive expert advisor software, which offers tailor-made guidance for employers in complying with safety and health standards, was also made available via the web.

References http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/osha35yearmilestones.html http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/osha/oshaenfstatreq.html http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owastand.display_standard_group?p_toc_level=1&p_part_number=1910 http://www.uhs.berkeley.edu/home/healthtopics/pdf/triggers.pdf#search=%22lighting%20migraine%22 http://www.mckesson.com/en_us/McKesson.com/Our+Businesses/McKesson+Provider+Technologies/Newsroom/McKesson+Spotlights+National+Patient+Safety+Awareness+Week.html http://www.csb.gov/index.cfm?folder=news_releases&page=news&NEWS_ID=264