The Occupational Safety & Health Administration, more commonly known as OSHA, is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, and is responsible for ensuring healthy and safe workplaces in America. (England has an equivalent in the HSE).

On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This led directly to the formation of OSHA the next year. Since it's inception, the number of occupational deaths has decreased by half, and the number of injuries on the job has decreased by 40% - in 1999, there were 5.7 million injuries related to the job (6.3 workers per 100), and 6,023 deaths directly related to the job.

A number of US states have their own OSHA programs: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Three of the 26, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, cover only public employees. The state programs must have standards at least as stringent as the federal program, but may be tougher. The first states to run their own programs, South Carolina, Montana, and Oregon, started their programs at the end of 1972. On January 20, 1978, the Supreme Court released a decision requiring the state programs to have enough staffing to be "at least as effective" as the federal program.

Workplaces are required to post the official OSHA poster where all employees have access to it. The poster contains information on an employee's rights in regards to their health and safety, and a number to call to contact OSHA if they have questions or see problems.

OSHA regularly inspects workplaces, looking at safety issues. They look for accidents just waiting to happen - items stacked too high and at odd angles, fire exits being blocked, and other serious hazards. They also try and address employee complaints. Violations of OSHA standards can result in warnings, for less serious violations, to fines of $7,000 for more serious ones - and repeated violations can increase the fine up to $70,000.

OSHA also requires employers in non-exempt areas to keep track of all injuries that occur in the workplace. Workplaces in low-hazard industries such as finance, retail, or insurance are exempt.

Not all people have been in agreement about the value of OSHA. The numbers don't lie, showing that OSHA has continued to improve workplace safety. That hasn't prevented congress from reducing the budget from time to time, often requiring the agency to reduce the number of inspections in can make. Others complain that the costs of complying with OSHA standards make it difficult to start a business in certain areas.

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Notable standards set due to OSHA:

June 23, 1978 - created a standard dealing with cotton dust, to protect 600,000 workers from byssinosis, or "brown lung". Since then, cases have declined from 12,000 to 700.

November 14, 1978 - the lead standard was established, reducing the permissible exposure by three-fourths, affecting 835,000 workers.

September 12, 1980 - a fire protection standard for the workplace established, setting rules for on-the-job fire brigades which put out 95 percent of worksite fires.

November 25, 1983 - set communication standards requiring employers to label toxic materials, and provide training in using and handling them, for the manufacturing industry, and in 1987, other industries were added.

September 1, 1989 - standard issued for lockout/tagout of hazardous energy sources and equipment to protect 39 million workers from injury or death caused by unexpected startup of equipment - prevents about 120 deaths, and 50,000 injuries per year.

January 14, 1993 - set standard requiring a permit dealing with confined spaces at 240,000 workplaces, helping prevent 50 deaths and more than 5,000 serious injuries per year.

November 14, 2000 - ergonomics standard set to help prevent 460,000 musculoskeletal disorders among over 102 million workers.