A 70-year history of high-profile concerns about workplace safety in the United States culminated in the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the U.S. Department of Labor.
Until 1970, there were no uniform rules for protecting workers from workplace safety and health hazards. OSHA was formed to bring down the number of job-related accidental deaths, occupational diseases and job-related disabilities.
OSHA is responsible for several areas in regard to worker safety. They include implementing on-the-job safety and health programs, researching occupational safety, maintaining a national reporting system of work-related health issues, creating safety training programs, and developing and enforcing job health and safety standards
OSHA covers all businesses that “affect commerce.” Religious groups are not covered unless they hire employees for non-religious purposes. Also exempt are self-employed individuals, family-run only farms, and any business that is regulated by other federal agencies. State and local government are exempt, but states that want OSHA approval of their own private-sector health and safety programs have to include a program that covers state and local employees as well as private enterprise employees. Many state plans have standards identical to the federal program.
At the minimum, employers have to meet what is called OSHA’s “general duty clause,” which says that each employer will provide “a place of employment which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Employers are also required to keep workers informed of OSHA regulations through posters and by making the log of workplace health and safety incidence available for their review. Employers must give employees who request information about OSHA or its rules and regulations. Employers with hazardous materials in the workplace must inform their employees and provide safety information and training programs.
Employees have responsibilities as well. They are held responsible for following workplace safety regulations and for their behavior on the job. Employees are required to read safety posters and other materials that OSHA provides them to keep them healthy and safe. Workers are required to immediately report hazardous situations to their supervisor and to cooperate with OSHA compliance officers during an inspection.
Until OSHA was formed, there was no centralized, standard method to monitor job safety and health issues. Some states and private groups kept data, but the federal government relied on projecting figures to determine the statistics in parts of the country where there was no recordkeeping. Now with consist nationwide reporting, OSHA can pinpoint health and safety issues more quickly and determine how to solve them.
Today, every accident on the job that results in a death or hospitalization of three or more workers has to be reported to either OSHA or, in states with OSHA-approved plans, the state agency responsible for workplace health and safety programs. Every company with 11 employees or more is required to keep records.
To enforce its standards, OSHA is authorized to perform workplace inspections. These inspections are conducted without notice to the employer, except in very specific instances and then there is only a 24-hour notice. It is to be performed during regular working hours. OSHA compliance officers may privately question any employee during the inspection. Inspections may be conducted on a routine basis, if an employee has filed a complaint, or if there has been determined that there may be some sort of imminent danger to employees.
OSHA can issue citations and penalties to employers who are not in compliance with workplace health and safety regulations. The penalties can range up to tens of thousands of dollars a day. Employers can also receive jail time if a violation results in an employee death or if they falsified records. An appeal process exists for employers.
The Department of Labor provides a more detailed overview of OSHA’s responsibilities.
Employers can review a comprehensive list of OSHA fines
Employees may learn all the details about filing a complaint.
Learn about the top 10 OSHA violations and find resources on how to prevent them.
Current required OSHA workplace posters are free.
A quick-start guide to compliance issues may be helpful to smaller businesses.