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Remarks on Signing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

December 29, 1970

Mr. Secretary and all of our distinguished guests:

Before I sign this bill and then hand the signing pen to the Secretary of Labor--and others will be available to all of the guests here so that you can have a memento of the occasion--I would like to respond to the remarks of the Secretary in these closing days of the Congress, to speak about the system of government which has been taking some pretty hard knocks recently, I noted, in some of the columns and editorials, and on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate.

It is always the case, and perhaps this year more often than usually the case, that at the conclusion of a Congress, emphasis is on those particular matters that didn't get through. And often we lose sight of the fact that a number of very important pieces of legislation do get through the legislative mill and benefit the Nation.

We have perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation to pass in this Congress, but as the Secretary of Labor has already indicated, probably one of the most important pieces of legislation, from the standpoint of 55 million people who will be covered by it, ever passed by the Congress of the United States, because it involves their lives.

Twelve thousand five hundred people lost their lives in accidents in America's factories and in other places of business, and over 2 million people were injured.

This bill deals with that. It goes beyond that. It deals with the environment in which the people--the 55 million Americans who are covered by it--will be working. And it provides for an institute which will look into the problems of the environment, the problems of noise, the problems of cleanliness, all of these things that can affect health in an indirect way.

And so it is, as the Secretary has indicated, a landmark piece of legislation.

Now let's talk about who is responsible. Usually at an occasion like this the President stands up and says, "I did it," or the Congress says, "I did it," or the Democrats say they did it, the Republicans say they did it, or labor takes the credit, or management takes the credit.

I would like to have the record very clear here that this bill could not be signed by the President of the United States today unless everybody had worked together to get it through.

I submitted the legislation proposal in August of last year. Since that time it has been before the Congress, both the House and the Senate.

And Senator [Harrison A.] Williams, taking the leadership in the Senate, and Congressman [William A.] Steiger, Congressman Daniels working on it in the House along with the other members of the committee who are present here, have refined the bill--I think that is the term we used to use in the House and the Senate--until we have this present proposal.

It differs from some of those propositions that we recommended. but in substance, it attains the goal that we all wanted to reach.

And so this bill could not be signed unless it had had bipartisan support, Democrats and Republicans working together. It couldn't be signed unless both Houses of the Congress--the Senate often does not follow the House, and vice versa--but in this case both Houses of the Congress have worked together so that this bill could be signed.

And it wouldn't be signed today unless it had had the support of organized labor and organized labor is represented here today by Mr. Meany, Mr. Abel, Mr. Fitzsimmons, and others who are leaders of those organizations.

It couldn't be signed today unless it had also had very enthusiastic support by the representatives of business and management who will be affected by the regulations issued under this bill.

And that is why the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the president of the NAM are here today.

And so we see a bill that represents in its culmination the American system at its best: Democrats, Republicans, the House, the Senate, the White House, business, labor, all cooperating in a common goal--the saving of lives, the avoiding of injuries, making the places of work for 55 million Americans safer and more pleasant places.

This is certainly a great goal, and it is one that I think would be particularly appreciated by a man whose picture hangs on this wall behind me. And I think all of you will pardon a personal reference when I say that I suppose in the Eisenhower administration when I was Vice President my closest friend in the Cabinet was Jim Mitchell.

Many of you knew him, too. And I recall that he used to talk to me at great length about occupational safety. And I remember he was very proud of the achievement of a bill on maritime safety, which came through during the Eisenhower administration.

But he pointed out then that that was only a beginning. And I am sure that he, as one of the great former Secretaries of Labor, would be very proud of the fact that this bill finally is being signed, and that the principle that he stood for 12 years ago now is enacted to cover all of the men and women who work in America's factories and in places of business 55 million.

And for that reason, I think today is a day when we can all be proud. The Congress can be proud--the Senate, the House, the Republicans, the Democrats, and of course, the administration. And we thank you, therefore, for your part in making it possible for the President of the United States now to attach his name to a bill that took so many hours of work, represents so much devotion, and that is going to do so much good for so many people across this land.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 12:05 p.m. in the auditorium at the Department of Labor. Introductory remarks by Secretary of Labor James D. Hodgson are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 7, P. 4).

As enacted, the bill (S. 2193) is Public Law 91-596 (84 Stat. 1590).

A summary of the provisions of the bill, released by the White House on the same day, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 7, P. 6).

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Signing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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