The Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is a federal agency within the United States Department of Labor. OSHA was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act enacted by President Richard Nixon in 1970. OSHA is responsible for insuring that workers are afforded a certain level of workplace safety through training, outreach, and education. Additionally, OSHA enforces the safety standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. To explore this concept, consider the following Occupational Safety and Health Administration definition.

Definition of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration


  1. The federal agency in charge of overseeing and enforcing workplace health and safety.


1970 Established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act

History of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA was formed on April 28, 1971 just months after the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law. Both the Act and the Administration were formed in response to a growing number of safety hazards and workplace injuries and deaths occurring as a result of the increase in the use of machinery in industrial sectors. George Guenther, former director of the Labor Standards Bureau, was appointed as the Administration’s first director. Guenther came to the position after years of experience running a manufacturing company, and as the deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Current Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health

As of 2015, Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Confirmed to the position by the Senate in 2009, Dr. Michaels is the agency’s longest serving assistant secretary. Prior to this position, Michaels worked as Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health. In addition, Michaels has conducted studies that pertain to employee health in a variety of industries.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards

OSHA issues safety standards and regulations to employers around the country. The agency’s tasks include:

  • Limiting the amount of chemical exposure for employees
  • Protecting employees from employer discrimination after reporting hazards
  • Ensuring employees have access to safety information and personal protective equipment
  • Setting requirements for safety procedures
  • Creating partnerships with voluntary programs to promote safety in the workplace
  • Implementing new safety management programs and systems
  • Fining or citing work sites that fail to comply with regulations
  • Helping employers deal with known workplace hazards
  • Establishing record keeping and reporting procedures for employers and employees

Employer Responsibilities

OSHA outlines specific responsibilities for employers to remain in compliance with health and safety standards. These include:

  • Ensuring the workplace is in compliance with OSHA standards
  • Reporting to OSHA within 8 hours the occurrence of a fatal accident
  • Posting OSHA posters within the workplace
  • Providing safety training to employees
  • Using codes and labels to warn employees of hazards
  • Keeping records and logs of work-related injures
  • Providing employees access to logs relating to work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Providing employee exposure and medical records to employees upon request
  • Protecting employees who exercise their right to file a complaint
  • Encouraging employees to adopt safe health practices

OSHA regulations apply to most workers in the United States, however there are a few exceptions. Such exceptions include mine and quarry workers, independent contractors, public sector employees, and domestic workers, nor does OSHA cover workers covered by other safety acts or administrations. On average, OSHA covers most workforce sectors in all United States jurisdictions.

Enforcement of Workplace Safety and Health Standards

OSHA is charged with enforcing safety and health standards in the workplace. Not only does the Administration recommend policies, procedures, and regulations pertaining to workplace safety, but it sends Compliance Safety and Health Officers to work sites to conduct inspections. OSHA issues fines to employers found to be in violation of OSHA standards. While inspections are done on a routine basis, they may also be done in response to a complaint filed by an employee or other individual regarding workplace hazards. If the compliance officer finds an employer to be in violation of OSHA standards, the employer may be fined as much as $70,000, and fines may continue to accrue until the employer resolves the problem.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Discrimination – The practice of unfairly treating different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, national origin, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Compliance – The act of doing what has been asked or ordered to be done; the state of being in accordance with established specifications, guidelines, or legislation.
  • Independent Contractor – An individual who contracts to perform work for another person or entity according to his own methods, and not subject to control by the other person or entity.
  • Public Sector Employee – An employee of a government agency.