Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to ensure working men and women healthy and safe working conditions. It sets and enforces standards by providing outreach, education, assistance, and training. OSHA was created as a result of public enragement over the growing accident and death rates at work. The agency concentrates its resources where they can have the most significant impact on reducing illnesses, injuries, and deaths in the workplace.
Options for Federal OSHA or State Plans
Pursuant to federal OSHA, states may elect to administer state plans as long as they satisfy minimum federal requirements. State plans cover both public and private sector workers. These state plans are eligible because Federal OSHA recognizes them as being at least as effective as the federal program. If there are variations between federal OSHA plans and state plans, it is frequently due to state programs exceeding the federal guideline requirements.
Most state plans have selected federal OSHA standards and regulations verbatim. Some states, including Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and California, have state plans that are significantly different from federal OSHA. These four states address hazards not covered by federal OSHA or have adopted more stringent standards than federal OSHA standards.
Reasons for Initiating State Plans
Federal OSHA has authorized 27 states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico to operate their occupational safety and health agencies. In these state-plan states, the program is governed by the state but collectively financed by the state and the federal government. State plans must cover federal OSHA measures at a minimum, but some states, including California, have chosen to adopt stricter standards. Some of the reasons that 27 states have adopted state plans instead of opting for the federal OSHA program include the following:
- The power to manage job safety and health under the Tenth Amendment
- Collecting the federal government’s grant of up to half of a state plan’s operating costs
- Continuing to use the state plan they had been practicing for work safety before OSHA took over
- Their workplaces required additional, state-specific, or more rigorous enforcement, clarification, or regulations to ensure employee safety
If federal OSHA confirms a new regulation, states on state plans must adopt the standard by six months from the date of establishment. However, employers are obligated to satisfy the rules and criteria of just the state plan if that is the one applicable to them. Otherwise, employers must comply with federal OSHA.
Differences Between State Plans and Federal OSHA
State plans are required to set job health and safety standards that, at a minimum, cover the same components as federal OSHA standards. Many state plans utilize identical OSHA standards, but they have the option to add more regulations incorporating hazards not directed by federal OSHA standards. Aside from specificity of the rules and differences in the scope, federal OSHA and state plans differ in several other aspects:
- State Plans tend to be more responsive to local needs than Federal OSHA.
- While all 27 state plans cover public sector employees, federal OSHA does not.
- Many state plans are innovative designs that improve worker health and safety, unlike federal OSHA.
- Because some of the most dangerous occupations, such as emergency response, law enforcement, and firefighting, are public sector jobs, state plans are important to public workers.
State plans are obligated to perform investigations to conduct occupational safety and health education and training programs, cover local and state government workers, and enforce their standards.
Covering Both Ends of the Spectrum
Employers may experience varying outcomes based on whether the federal OSHA or state plan has jurisdiction. While the federal OSHA regulations are the minimum standard adoptable for all state plans, many states have attached supplementary conditions or selected diverse approaches to fines and enforcement. Also, state programs frequently execute training opportunities, outreach efforts, and unique emphasis programs.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.