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When the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was enacted 50 years ago, it was hailed as critical legislation that would make workplaces safer and healthier for all. Thanks to this law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made great strides toward protecting worker health and safety. Unfortunately, the law didn't go far enough then — and it doesn't go nearly far enough now.
The law, essentially unchanged since its enactment in 1970, has not kept up with the growing scale and changing nature of work in the 21st century. Rather, due to limited resources and authority and, at times, lack of political will, the agency has failed to address numerous well-known workplace hazards or emerging ones, like COVID-19, climate hazards, and artificial intelligence.
One of the biggest gaps in the law is that it authorizes OSHA alone to enforce the statute. Thus, if workers are exposed to toxic substances like liquid nitrogen, forced to work on dangerous machines, or not provided personal protective equipment (PPE), they must rely on OSHA and its state counterparts to enforce the law. Workers …