The Birth of OSHA: The Federal Era of Occupational Safety and Health Begins with a Bitter Legislative Battle between Industry and Labor

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The end of the 1960s was a rare mixture of rage and hope in the United States. While the Vietnam War continued to drag on and divide the nation, Lyndon Johnson's idealistic Great Society programs did battle with poverty, racism and crime. It was an era when Big Government was willing to flex its muscle to address serious problems.

In January 1968, President Johnson proposed that Congress enact comprehensive workplace safety legislation covering 75 million workers. Two days later, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1968 was introduced in both chambers of Congress.

Changes in the safety legislation were soon forthcoming. Led by Rep. William Hathaway (D-Maine), a revised bill softened the requirement for a safe and healthful workplace to require employers to "assure so far as possible, every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions." The revised bill was intended to win over skeptics on both sides of the aisle, but with an abundance of more pressing issues to consider, it died.

The mechanism for creating safety and health standards would become one of the key points of contention as the legislative battle continued. The Nixon administration used an advisory task force to come up with its own version of a job safety bill, which proposed that safety standards be developed by an Occupational Safety and Health Board.

Meanwhile, three Democratic OSHA bills were reconciled to H.R. 16875 by Rep. Dominick Daniels (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on Labor. This bill again sought to put standards-setting power in the hands of the Secretary of Labor.

By November 1970, both Houses had passed OSHA bills, but the two versions still differed. In the end, a conference committee ironed out the differences, adopting a bill that largely followed the more liberal Senate version. In December, the OSH Act was passed and went into effect April 28, 1971. …