THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION A History of its First Thirteen Years, 1971-1984

By Judson MacLaury

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 heralded a new era in the history of public efforts to protect workers from harm on the job. This Act established for the first time a nationwide, federal program to protect almost the entire work force from job-related death, injury and illness. Secretary of Labor James Hodgson, who had helped shape the law, termed it "the most significant legislative achievement" for workers in a decade.1 Hodgson's first step was to establish within the Labor Department, effective April 28, 1971, a special agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to administer the Act. Building on the Bureau of Labor Standards as a nucleus, the new agency took on the difficult task of creating from scratch a program that would meet the legislative intent of the Act.

OSHA Administrations:

  1. George Guenther Administration, 1971-1973: A closely watched start-up
  2. John Stender Administration, 1973-1975: OSHA becomes an agency in crisis
  3. Dunlop/Corn Administration, 1975-1977: Reform and professionalization
  4. Eula Bingham Administration, 1977-1981: Of minnows, whales and "common sense"
  5. Thorne Auchter Administration, 1981-1984: "Oh, what a (regulatory) relief"


Mr. MacLaury is U.S. Dept. of Labor Historian. He wrote this history in 1984 at the request of Thorne Auchter, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.