It may be difficult to imagine that just over 50 years ago, it was even more dangerous to work in this country. All you have to do is speak with anyone who worked in Pennsylvania’s coal or steel industries prior to the 1970s to know just how true that is. It wasn’t until Dec. 29, 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law that workers here and across the country began receiving protections that save lives.
The law led to the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In its first decade, OSHA started on-site consultation programs and began safety and health training. It set standards for carcinogens, lead, cotton dust and asbestos. It also gave workers the freedom to report their employers by establishing whistleblower protections for those who report safety concerns in workplaces.
As time went on, workers received even more protections. For instance, in the 1980s, OSHA mandated that workers could refuse to perform a work task if they knew it was unsafe to do so. Through the agency’s efforts, employers must tell workers the chemicals they may be exposed to on the job. In the 1990s, these protections improved as did protections from falls, exposure to toxic substances, working in confined spaces and more. Since 2000, OSHA has only continued to expand the protections workers receive — often when reacting to ever-changing working environments and conditions facing workers every day.
Of course, the standards and regulations borne out of the Occupational Safety and Health Act can only do so much to protect workers from suffering work-related injuries. When that happens, they can turn to another system designed to protect workers — the workers’ compensation system. Pennsylvania employees who do end up injured on the job may apply for benefits to cover their medical and medical-related needs, and to replace a portion of income lost during recovery, along with other benefits depending on the circumstances.