Introduction: A Time to Act

When U.S. Congressional Leaders finally passed the Williams-Steiger Act of 1970 (the "Act") after a bitter three-year legislative struggle, politicians, labor, management and the American people envisioned a better future for the safety of the American worker. The basic provision of the Act required, "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees". This provision known as the General Duty Clause was the principal tenant of the Act. The Act further required that "each employer shall comply with the occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act" and that "each employee shall comply with the occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct". In concert, the Act created a shared responsibility between government, labor and management to protect the American worker from on the job injuries and fatalities. Simply stated, the Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that had a threefold responsibility to promulgate the safety and health rules, educate workers and employers on those rules and actively enforce those rules. Negotiations between Congressional Leaders also sparked the idea that a separate research organization, separate from OSHA, should be created to conduct safety and health research and advise OSHA on solutions to occupational safety and health issues in the American workplace. This idea was central to the passage of the Act, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was born. Congressional leaders believed NIOSH should be an independent research organization but should work closely with OSHA to create solutions to protect the American worker. Congressional Leaders decided to place NIOSH under the control of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). NIOSH was set up as a prevention-oriented research institute responsible for identifying occupational hazards, conducting research and field studies, and conveying the results to OSHA, the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA), other federal agencies, and professionals working in the field. A second objective was to provide training programs based on the results of research and study for Safety, Health and Environmental (SHE) professionals. Congressional leaders envisioned a close working relationship between the two agencies. The success of this relationship has been debated in the halls of Congress, in the SHE community and most importantly in the American workplace where U.S. fatality and injury rates continue to lag rates achieved in the European Union (EU) and other civilized industrial countries.

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