OSHA: What You Need to Know
When the U.S. Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, it established employer requirements that are designed to keep employees safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a public health agency that is tasked with enforcing the OSH Act and ensuring that no worker’s right to a safe workplace is violated.
OSHA and Coverage
While OSHA is a federal agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, 22 states also have similar programs developed and run at the state level. These are approved and partially funded by OSHA, and each must meet the minimum requirements of the OSH Act. There are also some states that have state plans that cover only public employees, and all others are covered by the federal OSHA. Most government agencies at the state and local level are not covered by the OSH Act, although federal employees are. The OSH Act does not apply to people who work for immediate family members on a farm, who are self-employed or who are covered by another federal agency.
The OSH Act General Duty Clause
The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act states that employers and employees must comply with all the standards listed by the Act. For employers, this specifically means eliminating known hazards that could cause injury or death when they are identified as affecting employee job duties or within the workplace itself.
In order to provide a safe workplace, employers must fulfill certain responsibilities, depending on the type of employee job duties and exposures that are involved. If there are occupational hazards, the employer should work to dispense with these rather than merely attempting to mitigate the risk with personal protective equipment. Employers must provide the education, training and assistance that workers need to conduct themselves safely on the job. The language and terminology of the communication must be at a level that is easily understood by the employees. The workplace should be inspected regularly to ensure that all OSHA standards are met. When applicable, employees should undergo medical tests such as hearing exams, and these should be provided by the employer. Most personal protective equipment that is required for the job is the responsibility of the employer as well.
Recordkeeping and Notification
When job-related accidents occur, employers must keep a record of these unless the industry is one of those listed as low-hazard and there are 10 or fewer workers employed by the company. This record must be available to former employees and their representatives as well as current employees. OSHA must be notified when there is an inpatient hospitalization, amputation, loss of an eye or a fatality. When a worksite receives a citation, this must be posted prominently in that location or nearby for three days, or until it has been corrected, if that is longer.
Part of OSHA’s ability to enforce regulations includes conducting on-site inspections without providing advance notification. The agency prioritizes the targets of these inspections by assessing a workplace’s number of accidents and fatalities, violations and complaints. Worksites that have been issued citations typically undergo follow-up investigations. OSHA is also more likely to inspect locations where there is a threat of impending danger.
OSHA does not tolerate retaliation against employees who have exercised their rights by pointing out safety hazards or violations of federal or state standards, or by taking part in an inspection. An employer may not discipline, demote or terminate a worker because of this type of action. Intimidation, threats and harassment are also illegal, as is a reduction in hours or pay, or denial of a promotion. Certain criteria must be met during an OSHA investigation of a retaliation claim, including verification that the employee was exercising rights, that the employer knew about it, and that there was a related action taken against the employee. If evidence indicates that the action was retaliation, the employee must be reinstated and any lost wages or benefits restored.
OSHA offers more than guidelines and requirements. The agency also provides resources for employers to pass on to their employees. For example, training materials and posters listing rights and responsibilities in the workplace are available through the agency. Businesses may take advantage of compliance assistance products and resources that include information provided by specialists. Companies that are small to medium sized may take part in an on-site consultation program that provides advice and support for employers who want to establish programs to improve safety on the job. Worksites that involve greater hazards typically receive precedence. Since OSHA’s inception, job-related injuries and fatalities have decreased by more than 65 percent. Improving workplace health and safety is an ongoing process that includes everyone on the jobsite, as well as those who set the standards and enforce them.
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