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