Written by Steve Hudgik
Harry McShane was 16 years old on June 29, 1908, when his left arm, caught in the belt of a machine, was ripped off at the shoulder. According to the boy's father, his employers, whom Harry had worked for since he was 14, offered no compensation either at the hospital or at home.
Today, more than 100 years later, an entirely different health and safety story can be told. The OSH Act, passed by Congress in 1970, "assures so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthy working conditions and to preserve our human resources."
In 1877 Massachusetts became the first state to pass health and safety legislation requiring the guarding of belts, shafts and gears, protection on elevators and adequate fire exits in factories.
By 1890, nine states had factory inspectors, 13 states required machine guarding and 21 made limited provision for health and safety hazards. In 1903, the U.S. Bureau of Labor began publishing graphically detailed studies of occupational fatalities and illnesses in the dusty trades as well as other health and safety topics.
The first industries targeted by OSHA for health and safety hazards were: marine cargo handling, roofing, sheet metal, meat products, miscellaneous transportation equipment (primarily mobile homes) and lumber and wood products.
These health and safety hazards were also targeted: asbestos, lead, silica, carbon monoxide and cotton dust. Since the passage of the OSH Act:
In the beginning OSHA targeted its enforcement resources on a "worst case first" approach which involved setting standards for the hazards most likely to cause harm.
One of OSHA's early standards was for vinyl chloride, a colorless flammable gas that evaporates quickly. Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC pipes, wire coating, vehicle upholstery and plastic kitchen ware. In 1974 a standard was established when an epidemic of liver cancer suddenly became evident among exposed employees.
Other early standards included coke, a solid fuel made by heating coal, noise, cotton dust, lead, asbestos, beryllium and a number of industrial chemicals, carcinogen inorganic arsenic. (Interestingly, John Stender was given the job of OSHA assistant secretary in part because of his personal understanding of workplace hazards: Stender lost part of his hearing while working inside boilers.)
OHSA is a relatively small federal agency and yet it is responsible for the health and safety of 130 million American workers. With only 2,000 inspectors and 7 million worksites, its reach is limited.
OSHA compliance cannot be left entirely to the administration. Employers, employees and OSHA must work together to create workplaces that are safe for its workers. To learn simple, effective ways to support workplace safety, call Graphic Products at 1-888-326-9244. and speak to one of our representatives. Every life matters and every worker deserves a safe workplace!
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