The Right to Know and the Duty to Disclose Hazard Information

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American Public Health Association




In late 1983, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgated its final rule on "hazard communication." This rule establishes for many workers the right to know certain health hazard information held by their employers. Concurrently, the rule imposes on these employers the duty to disclose such privately held information. I

The OSHA rule is limited and late, and joins a crowded field. It follows in the wake of several decades of legal developments which have established various rights to know and duties to disclose. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, state common law for personal injuries has provided for such rights and duties, to protect workers, consumers and community residents. Since the mid-1970s, some 20 states and many communities have enacted a diverse lot of right-to-know laws; and OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency have enacted several regulations requiring certain disclosures by firms handling hazardous substances. Throughout the twentieth century, the states have enacted a wide variety of laws and rules to provide for other rights of access to company held information.

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