Fifty years ago today, President Nixon signed the Occupational Health Safety and Health Act to assure safe and healthy working conditions for workers across the country. For five decades, the hardworking civil servants at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Department of Labor have fought to uphold that mission and protect workers’ lives, including workers responding to some of the nation’s devastating crises — from the recovery of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11 to the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And, OSHA has protected workers from everyday hazards in the workplace — limiting workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals including lead, asbestos, and silica and instituting standards that require hospitals to safely dispose of needles and other sharp objects — dramatically reducing infection rates of health care workers.
Yet today, in the midst of a global pandemic, OSHA has been prevented from using its full range of tools to protect workers from COVID-19. The number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since 1975, while millions of essential workers are working to keep the country functioning through the pandemic. As they risk their lives to save others in this pandemic, they should not have to lie awake at night wondering if they’ll make it home from work safely the next day, or if they’ll bring home the virus to their loved ones.
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