The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health grew out of informal, brown bag lunch meetings between health and safety activists and trade unionists in the middle to late 1970s. The federal Occupational Health and Safety Act had passed in 1970 and this group that included scientists, academics, doctors, lawyers, union representatives and rank-and-file workers discussed how to ensure that the new federal law provided the strongest possible protections to ordinary workers. They also examined problems in the workers’ compensation system and the latest scientific findings on workplace hazards.
In 1978, the committee held its first conference, “Cancer in the Workplace.” A year later, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health was incorporated, with Deborah Nagin and David Michaels (now head of federal OSHA) as its first co-coordinators. NYCOSH quickly gained prominence as a leading, authoritative voice for worker safety and health.
Over the years, we have built coalitions of community, environmental, and labor organizations to win inspirational campaigns; trained over one hundred thousand workers in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley; successfully led advocacy efforts around the creation of New York State’s occupational health clinics and the Public Employees Safety and Health Act; conducted educational conferences for hundreds of workers on the disproportionate hazards on the job facing immigrant and low-wage workers, workers’ compensation, workplace violence, asbestos, office hazards, and ergonomics; and provided thousands of various technical assistance consultations on issues ranging from the aftermath of a wastewater treatment plant explosion and lab safety in schools.
NYCOSH was at the forefront of disaster response and recovery after the World Trade Center disaster, as well as after Sandy, and continues to advocate for disaster preparedness through its work on infectious diseases–most recently, Ebola.
Additionally, NYCOSH has been at the forefront of one of the most inspirational campaigns of low-wage immigrant women workers to hit New York City. In 2014, Adhikaar and NYCOSH developed a partnership to create a stronger, unified voice for healthier nail salons in New York, which has since grown to include key partner Workers’ United NY-NJ Joint Board. Through organizing, research, policy advocacy, and consumer engagement, we have influenced diverse stakeholders and fostered a transformation of the industry. New York became the first state to pass precedent-setting ventilation regulations in nail salons, and also has the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights posted in all New York State nail salons. NYCOSH started a New York Nail Salon Workers School in 2016, which has led to 350 successful graduates as of 2018, with a 95% pass rate.
NYCOSH also leads on construction safety. Since 2014, NYCOSH has published an annual report on construction fatalities in New York State, which has helped influence construction policies. NYCOSH leads the Scaffold Safety Coalition to protect the Scaffold Safety Law and also supported the campaign to pass New York City Construction Safety Law 1447 (now Local Law 196). NYCOSH continues to advocate to protect construction workers by increasing penalties against companies whose negligence causes a worker to die on the job.
NYCOSH’s Executive Director is Charlene Obernauer and its Board Chair is Wendy Hord.