Jason Tolentino - 2005 Essay Winner


Events and Reasons Leading to the Formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)




An essay by Jason Tolentino

OSHA's history lies in the roots of America's trade unions, which extends deep into America's early years. In the early colonization period, primitive unions struggled to improve the working conditions for workers. These efforts would begin to grow as war affected America's industry. Starting in the early 1800s and accelerating during the Civil War, the factory system accounted for most of America's production. This system would not only produce corruption within factory leaders, but also affect the poverty by increasing the gap between the poor and wealthy.

These factory systems would prove harmful to those working in the factories, especially during the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Workers, as young as 8 years old, would work 10 to 12 hour shifts in the worst possible working conditions because of the large demand for employment that caused unsanitary factories since many of those that immigrated to America lived near the factories. The public especially knew this picture of unhealthy work conditions when Upton Sinclair wrote his book, The Jungle. With this book and experience in the factory, workers realized their unfavorable conditions, and the power of their employers, that a number of labor unions increased during the mid - 19th century.

One of the first unions created helped persuade Congress to pass an eight-hour day for federal workers. This group, the National Labor Union did not prove very effective and a few years later in 1869, the Knights of Labor provided membership to skilled and unskilled workers, men and women, even black or white. The Knights acphrved a large membership count, which illustrated the demand for better working conditions at the workplace. Eventually, the AFL-CIO would be an organization that would affect decisions made on work safety.

These unions would recognize that the workplace had many hazards, and saw the need for laws to be improved to adapt to new hazards. In America, while unions advocated better wages, better working conditions, and better working days, there would be countless events that would help make working, safer. In the early 1900s, the Pittsburgh Survey found that the injured workers were hindered, economically. As a result, the idea of compensating injured workers gained foot. Although Congress supported a limited compensation law, the seriousness of this issue of better work safety and anything work-related was of charitable interests. This attitude changed when the survey reached the Federal Government, which was relatively inactive, until the Federal Government established the US Bureau of Labor.

Leading the Bureau of Labor, Frances Perkins created a Bureau of Labor Standards in 1934, which promoted safety and health for the entire work force, as well as help State governments improve their health and safety laws, and raise awareness. This movement to raise awareness would eventually carry through when Nixon signs for OSHA. In addition to foundation principles of OSHA, Congress gave the Labor Department authority to set safety and health standards, as well as seek penalties against violators. At first, this met opposition from businesses as well as the State government. These oppositions would delay an agreed health and safety program, but would help create a stronger one.

As opposition continued, the Public Health Service reported links between cancer and the workplace and those problems in the workers' health would just continue. Since cancer is still a major problem, the report urged everyone to do something, even Lyndon B. Johnson, president in 1968. Johnson's proposal to solve the problem gave the Secretary of Labor the responsibility to set and enforce standards as well as gave inspectors authority to enter workplaces without notice. This proposal aroused opposition, like always. This opposition continued to delay a supported bill throughout America. All these setbacks eventually end and in 1969, the idea of a general job safety laws were taken afoot. After Johnson left office, Richard Nixon and his administration offered a five-person board that would set and enforce job safety and health standards. Again, opposition met this proposal because confusion would ensue. While labor organizations and critics argued, the unions felt strong that action was needed to deal with the hazards of the workplace, especially the new chemical dangers. After much deliberation in the House and the Senate, Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The formation of OSHA would be the culmination of all these movements in making the workplace safer and better for the workers. Working along with unions, OSHA assures safety to workers of diverse cultures, men and women, through education, enforcement, and perseverance. This organization will continue to grow stronger and search for more ways to protect the health and safety of families, even the small-business owner trying to make a living., while complying with OSHA regulations. Without the struggles of past unions and arguments on one single law to help protect the working people, our workers of today might not have the safety it has today. Although it is not perfect, it will continue to strive to help the workplace be a healtphrr and safer place.





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