Dangerous working conditions in industries across the nation sparked the creation of occupational safety regulations. Under these regulations (both federal and state), workers have a right to do their jobs without the danger of being injured or killed, and employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace for all employees.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is a division of the Department of Labor, implements and enforces these regulations. A failure to meet the OSHA compliance requirements can lead to workplace injuries, which can in turn result in costly lawsuits as well as expensive penalties. So, it’s important that you consider OSHA safety standards and regulations while creating your workplace safety program and procedures.
This article will cover details about OSHA compliance, including the laws and regulations surrounding workplace safety, who they apply to (and who is exempt), and what steps to take to ensure that you’re complying with OSHA regulations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)
In 1970, President Nixon brought into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act or the OSH Act to improve workplace safety and health in both private and federal organizations. The act requires employers to provide a safe working environment.
Under the act, employers are expected to remove all recognized hazards from the workplace or, if that is not possible, implement measures to mitigate the risk of workplace accidents and injuries. The OSH Act also empowers OSHA to enforce the act and impose penalties and other enforcement action against non-compliant employers.
In keeping with the OSH Act, OSHA has developed thousands of standards that cover safety requirements for each unique type of working environment and industry. For example, the agriculture, construction, and maritime industries have vastly different workplace hazards and risks compared to many other industries, so there are separate standards for each of these. There are also some general industry standards that all businesses would typically need to comply with.
For compliance under these OSHA standards, employers must:
- Identify all health and safety hazards (including hazardous chemicals in the worksite) and inform employees about them
- Provide appropriate protection from hazards (the Hazard Communication Standard)
- Reduce the risk of death, injury, or illness to a low and acceptable level
- Provide safety training to employees to enable them to do their jobs safely
- Notify employees of OSHA citations
- Maintain thorough records of work-related injuries, deaths, and illnesses occurring in your workplace and share these records with employees
- Notify OSHA when there is an accident in the workplace causing a fatality, severe injury, hospitalization, or need for an amputation
- Provide safety gear and personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary, at no cost to the workers
- Avoid retaliating against employees who express their safety concerns to relevant authorities, and instead encourage it
- Implement measures minimizing the risk of exposure to blood or other potential causes of infection (under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard)
- Create and implement a fire safety plan training employees on how to prevent and respond to fires (e.g., using a fire extinguisher, administering basic first aid to burn victims, etc.)
Employers must also comply with a General Duty clause, which covers risks that may not be specifically mentioned in the standards but still pose a danger to health and safety. Risks that could come under this clause include workplace violence, bullying, or stressful working conditions.
Who Does the OSH Act Apply To?
The OSH Act protects the safety and well-being of nearly all workers in the U.S. OSHA covers private sector businesses in all 50 states, either through the federal OSHA law or through a “state plan,” an OSHA-approved safety program devised by an individual state. Some states employ a combination of the federal OSHA regulations and a state plan to ensure safety for workers.
The OSH Act also provides protection to private and some public employers and employees in federal territories, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.
Who Is Exempt from OSHA Compliance?
The OSH Act does not cover self-employed workers, churches, businesses and organizations that fall under a separate federal agency (such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration or the Coast Guard).
Other exemptions include the federal and state governments, domestic services, and the immediate family members of farm employees.
Workers’ Rights Under the OSH Act
In addition to a safe workplace, the OSH Act gives workers other rights as well. OSHA also stipulates that employers must allow workers to exercise these rights with no retaliation.
The rights include:
- The right to be informed about hazards in the workplace as well as the OSHA standards that govern it.
- The right to receive training on methods to prevent harm and other safety procedures, in a language that workers can understand.
- The right to access workplace injury and illness data, get copies of workplace medical records, and review workplace inspection, safety audit, and accident investigation reports.
- The right to file a confidential complaint to OSHA regarding safety concerns without facing retaliation, and to speak in private with an OSHA inspector
- In industries like health care, employees also have a right to know about the protections they are entitled to under HIPAA or other laws instituted by a state or federal agency that provide additional rights.
What Happens If You Don’t Comply?
If you don’t meet OSHA compliance requirements, OSHA has the authorities to impose financial penalties on your organization. Penalties are levied based on the severity of the violation and are increased annually in line with inflation.
The states and territories with their own state plans can also set separate penalty structures and levels. The only requirement for these state plans is that the minimum and maximum penalties must be at least as effective as those imposed by the federal OSHA.
OSHA has the authority to conduct inspections and audits on your workplace, where an OSHA inspector will observe the worksite and look for hazards. The inspector may also check your safety and health programs for loopholes.
If these OSHA inspections bring up any violations, recommendations are made to improve safety and OSHA schedules a follow-up inspection to check for compliance. After such an inspection, compliance officers decide if a citation is necessary.
How to Ensure OSHA Compliance
The best way to check for and ensure that you’re complying with all OSHA standards and requirements that apply to your industry is to create an OSHA compliance checklist. Here are the steps you can take to ensure that you’re OSHA compliant:
- Review the OSHA regulations and/or state regulations as well as general industry OSHA standards while creating your safety policy or other safety programs
- Create an OSHA compliance checklist and notify employees about it, instructing them to express their concern if any item on the checklist is not being followed
- Keep the OSHA compliance checklist in hand while conducting internal safety audits and inspections as well as accident investigations
- Provide PPE to employees where necessary
- Display OSHA posters (which inform workers of their rights under the OSH Act) in prominent areas
- Keep a stocked first aid kit readily available for use in case of accidents
- Use prominent color codes, signs, and labels to alert workers of any hazards or dangers
- Keep the worksite uncluttered, and promptly clean spills to prevent slippage
- Conduct regular safety training for employees while following OSHA training requirements
- Ensure that all equipment is well-maintained and safe to use at all times
While this list is not exhaustive, it serves as a starting point of what you need to do to comply with OSHA regulations and avoid fines and citations.
Use Automation to Improve Compliance
OSHA’s standards and regulations number in the thousands, and keeping track of all of them can be challenging. Besides, if even one of OSHA’s safety or health standards is violated, you run the risk of a serious workplace injury and a hefty OSHA penalty.
To avoid these consequences and ensure that every applicable regulation is followed, you can automate your safety-related processes. For example, using a platform such as Pulpstream can enable you to:
- Create, store, and check for errors in an OSHA compliance checklist
- Store injury, illness, and workplace accident records in a single place and share them with stakeholders quickly and easily
- Allow workers to express their concerns or complain anonymously about any OSHA standards being violated
- Share safety information and resources with workers in a single, intuitive platform
So what are you waiting for? Improve your compliance today with Pulpstream.