What is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?
OSHA is a national public health agency, created by Congress and President Nixon in 1970, dedicated to the basic proposition that every worker has the right to a safe workplace, and that employers have the responsibility to ensure such for all its workers. The intention and purpose of OSHA is to set and enforce safety and health standards to prevent and reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. The agency works to achieve these goals by providing training, outreach, education, cooperative programs, partnerships and compliance assistance targeted at those areas where workers are at risk and enforces the law against those who would put workers at risk.
Has OSHA Been Successful in Delivering Progress Toward Reducing Work Related Deaths and Injuries?
In 1970, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed while performing workplace duties – approximately 38 deaths per day. For 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4,500 on the job deaths or approximately 12 deaths per day. During this period, U.S. employment nearly doubled. In addition, the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has also dropped markedly, from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.5 per 100 workers in 2010.
While significant progress has been made in all areas of worksite safety and health, health hazards and unsafe conditions persist, and preventable injuries and fatalities continue to occur. It is estimated that each year more than 3.3 million working men and women suffer serious job-related injury or illness, and more are exposed to potentially toxic chemicals that may cause future illnesses. Consequently, direct and indirect employee and employer costs are substantial, let alone the immense emotional and psychological costs experienced by the workers and their families.
What is OSHA’s Coverage?
The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public-sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. State plans are OSHA approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of Federal OSHA. These state plans are approved and monitored by OSHA which also provides up to fifty percent funding for these programs. Federal OSHA also provides coverage to certain workers specifically excluded from a state’s plan, for example, those in some states who work in maritime industries or on military bases.
Workers at state and local government agencies are not covered by Federal OSH Act protections in states with OSHA approved state programs. OSHA’s protection applies to all federal agencies.
Rights and Responsibilities Under OSHA Law
Employers must provide their workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Specifically, employers must:
- Display the official OSHA Job Safety and Health – It’s the Law poster
- Inform workers of chemical hazards through training, information, coding systems, etc.
- Provide the training in understandable language and vocabulary
- Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- Perform worksite quality assurance testing of OSHA standards
- Provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers
- Provide hearing exams and other medical tests required by OSHA standards
- Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them
- Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye, and all fatal heart attacks
- Not retaliate against workers for using their rights under the law to report a work-related injury or illness or to file a complaint against the organization
Workers have the right to:
- File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected
- Receive understandable information and training about hazards and OSHA standards
- Receive copies of records or work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
- Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring performed in their workplace
- Receive copies of their workplace medical records
- Participate in an OSHA inspections and speak privately with the inspector
- File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer under their OSH Act rights, including acting as a “whistleblower”
OSHA Standards, the General Duty Clause, and the Standards-Setting Process
OSHA’s standards cover a wide range of serious hazards that require employers to provide fall protection, prevent trench cave-ins, prevent exposure to some infectious diseases, ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces, prevent exposure to harmful chemicals, pot guards on dangerous machines, provide respirators, and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.
The General Duty Clause of the OSH Act requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards and is generally cited when no specific OSHA standard applies to the hazard.
OSHA has the authority to issue new or revised occupational safety and health standards. However, the process has many steps and opportunities for public input. When considering whether to develop a new or revised standard, the agency:
- May publish a Request for Information in the Federal Register to obtain information and views from the public, or may hold stakeholder meeting also seeking input
- If OSHA decides to proceed with issuing a new or revised regulation, it must first publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register and solicit public comment. Interested parties can weigh-in on proposed regulations that they feel may be too strict and adversely affect an organizations ability to effectively and economically conduct business.
- After considering all the information and testimony provided, OSHA develops and issues a final standard that becomes enforceable
Enforcement of Standards
When OSHA finds employers who are not compliant in their safety and health responsibilities, the agency takes strong, decisive actions. Inspections are initiated without advance notice by highly trained compliance officers and scheduled based on the priorities of Imminent danger, catastrophes – fatalities or hospitalizations, worker complaints, particular hazards, high injury rates, and follow up inspections.
When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, it may issue citations or fines. A citation includes methods an employer may use to fix a problem and the date by which the corrective actions must be completed. Employers have the right to contest any part of the citation and these appeals are heard by an independent commission.
OSHA’s Efforts to Provide Assistance to Employers
OSHA recognizes that they have a responsibility to provide employers with educational programs and information, training, compliant specialists, free on-site safety and health consultation services, cooperative programs, strategic partnerships and alliances, and advisory committees to help create safety and health programs that can substantially reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses. You can visit OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs web page at www.osha.gov/shpguidelines for more information.
All About OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, www.osha.gov