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For Immediate Release
July 16, 2003
For More Information:
Kevin Weeks 503-947-7428

Thirty Years of the Oregon Safe Employment Act

July 2003 marks 30 years since the implementation of the Oregon Safe Employment Act, the Oregon statute that regulates workplace safety and health for 84,000 Oregon employers and more than 1.6 million workers. Governor Tom McCall signed Senate Bill 44 into law on July 22, 1973.

Senate Bill 44's journey started with the passage of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act by Congress. It was signed into law by President Nixon on December 29, 1970. Section 18 of that federal law provided that states could administer their own occupational-safety-and-health programs so long as they were at least as effective as the program administered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Oregon's response was that workplace safety and health could best be regulated at the state level.
"It was a general attitude at the time that we could make a change, that Oregon could do better when it came to industrial safety," said retired Chemical Workers Union leader Dick Edgington, looking back on the work that went into crafting the Oregon Safe Employment Act. The state's Accident Prevention Division, which became the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) in 1989, had been working to reduce injuries and illnesses since 1943, but lacked the regulatory authority contained in the Oregon Safe Employment Act.

"The passage of the act gave Oregon control over its occupational safety and health destiny," said Lisa Trussell, legislative representative for Associated Oregon Industries. "We have more compliance officers and consultants than most states do; we put our money where our mouth is - and it's working."

There were 52 workplace fatalities during calendar year 2002, a 63-percent reduction from the 144 fatalities in 1973.
The effects of the Oregon Safe Employment Act continue, reflected in statistics and in the attitudes of employers and workers.

"We're seeing industrial protections coming home with workers," said Trussell. "There's a definite culture shift occurring, workers are practicing safety around the house because it is so ingrained in Oregon's workplaces."

Oregon OSHA staff continue the division's commitment to ensuring that as many Oregon workers as possible come home from work safely each day.