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For the majority of the 20th century, there were no federal guidelines regarding safety and health in the workplace. Instead, these laws were primarily the responsibility of specific states. Yet all this changed in 1970 with the passage of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act, better known as just the OSH Act, into law after it was approved by Congress.
The OSH Act changed everything, establishing not just an overarching set of federal rules and regulations pertaining to employee safety but also OSHA, a federal watchdog entity tasked with enforcement. But which president signed the first piece of legislation to govern workplace safety and employee health? The answer may surprise you!
The story of the OSH Act dates back to 1968 when then-president Lyndon B. Johnson was working tirelessly to encourage Congress to pass a federal law that applied to all US workers. While LBJ campaigned long and hard, ultimately he was unsuccessful in garnering enough support in the legislature to get his version of the bill passed.
Then, on November 5th, 1968, the national election crowned what would be the country’s new leader. Candidates included Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace, but the ultimate winner of the race, Richard Milhous Nixon, would go on to become the 37th President of the United States.
It may be hard to believe, but it’s true. President Nixon was instrumental in ensuring that the OSH Act was passed in 1970, and he proudly signed it into law in the Oval Office that year. This single event would have been one of the lasting and most well-known legacies of his administration if it were not for the Watergate scandal. But few people besides those who know the history of the OSH Act understand that we owe Richard Nixon a great debt for extending workplace safety standards across the country.
This one auspicious event that occurred during Nixon’s time as president has shaped all of employment law in the United States ever since. Today, the OSH Act is enforced aggressively by OSHA in an effort to ensure American employees work in an environment free of unnecessary risks and dangers.
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