ANNCR: The Occupational Safety and Health Act - on today's Congressional Moment

Congress first dealt with issues of safety and health in the workplace in 1890, when legislation was passed for safety standards in coal mines. Over the next several decades, more complicated machinery and new chemicals entered the workplace yearly, posing new hazards to workers.

By the late 1960s, an estimated 14,000 workers were dying on the job each year, and over 2 million were suffering disabling injuries from work-related accidents.

For years business and labor groups wrangled over the need for federal legislation. Opinion in Congress was deeply split over what form legislation might take, but in 1970 Congress finally approved the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would establish the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, or "OSHA."

OSHA quickly became one of the federal government's most disliked agencies. Businesses complained that they faced scores of nit-picking rules, high compliance costs, and arbitrary inspections. In response, OSHA scaled back many of its original rules, and focused its safety inspections on the most dangerous workplaces.

Employment in the U.S. has more than doubled since the creation of OSHA, but during the same time period, occupational injury and illness rates declined 40 percent, and the number of workplace fatalities dropped by 60 percent.

STANDARD CLOSE: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works or to get involved in your government, visit the Center on Congress website at congress.indiana.edu.