The Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted by Congress in response to the large number of
workplace deaths, diseases, and injuries occurring in the United States every year. Scholars and critics
disagree about how effective the OSH Act has been in reducing or preventing such occurrences.
The OSH Act empowers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate rules and
set standards for workplace safety. These rules are subject to challenge in our federal courts.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also empowered to enforce the law and the
regulations by means of workplace inspections and citations. Its agents are not required to meet the
same strict search warrant requirements imposed upon police officers by the Fourth Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, while OSHA’s jurisdiction can sometimes become entangled with
that of other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard, recent
case law suggests that in this post-9/11 world of heightened health and safety concerns, the U.S.
Supreme Court is prepared to allow OSHA a substantial amount of leverage in conducting inspections
and enforcing the OSH Act and its implementing regulations.
Not only is OSHA’s jurisdiction over workplace safety not exclusive, but in some major areas—
workplace smoking being a very significant one—private litigation has played a significant role in
securing employee rights and recompensing employee injuries. Most recently, Big Tobacco has been
the target of “secondhand smoke” lawsuits by employees, such as airline attendants, who claim to
have been harmed by the necessity of working in closely confined workspaces where secondhand
smoke has been present daily. The U.S. Supreme Court in May 2003 agreed to review the $1.4
million judgment in one the most significant of these lawsuits.
Another emerging area of OSHA concern is workplace violence, a complicated issue that implicates
multiple government agencies, professions, and causes. Here, too, the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks and the anthrax crisis that followed have led many corporations to develop policies and
procedures for dealing with a wide range of health and safety threats that might come from within as
well as from outside their workplaces, including in the case of many larger corporations and
organizations detailed work site evacuation plans.