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OSHA has a rather “checkered” history since its inception as a result of passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. In its earlier years, OSHA was often criticized for their standards, which could be confusing, burdensome, and very expensive to implement. Much of the unhappiness also related to the inexact and often arbitrary enforcement practices of the agency. Many of these both perceived and real problems have been eliminated in the past fifteen years to the point that many regulations were simplified and made more reasonable to implement.
Changes to the method of computing and codifying OSHA's standards and increasing emphasis on chemical hazards and blood borne pathogens occurred during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. It's important to remember that OSHA doesn't act alone and is not always the “final word” in industrial safety. They work closely with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop their standards for industrial safety and personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, many states in the U.S. have adopted their own safety code which is integrated with OSHA standards to define the employer requirements to maintain a safe workplace.
Finally, when you read many provisions of the act, you will notice that the word “voluntary” appears often. This does not mean compliance is voluntary as OSHA has a staff of inspectors to ensure compliance and has the power to impose fines and even criminal penalties on companies who are not following proper procedures. Most of the voluntary issues revolve around the manner in which the safety guidelines are implemented, how employee safety training is conducted, and the type and style of PPE provided to employees.
OSHA now tries to give employers as many effective choices as possible to comply with safety requirements to increase compliance and help reduce costs to the companies involved while keeping a high level of safety.