Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: OSHA's Application In Asbestos Cases

By James J. A. Mulhall

The Occupational Safety and Health Act ("Act"), which was signed by President Nixon on December 29, 1970, provided the basis for the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA").  Questions about the applicability of the Act circulated even before its1971 effective date.  As a result, OSHA provided guidance relative to the Act's application.  

The National Safety News, which was the published journal for the National Safety Council, contained a section in publications from the 1970's entitled "Officially OSHA" wherein questions about the Act's application were answered.  Some of the information provided in "Officially OSHA" made clear that the Act imposed obligations at the time of its creation only on employers and employees.  Thus, other entities such as product manufacturers, were not burdened with the Act's obligations in 1971.   

More specifically, when asked "does an equipment dealer have an obligation under OSHAct to make certain his products meet safety regulations?," OSHA answered in the October 1973 National Safety News with "No - not in his capacity as a seller or lessor of goods.  The act imposes safety obligations only on employers and employees..."  

In present day asbestos litigation, there may be claims that OSHA applied to non-employers since the commencement of the Act.  However, such claims may be challenged by the language of the Act and the guidance provided in the National Safety News. 

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