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What is OSHA?


Trying to make sense of OSHA regulations but don’t know where to start? Been to the OSHA website and are overwhelmed? Don’t worry. You will find the answers here. I have attempted to take the best of what the OSHA website has to offer for both small and large business and develop a step-by-step approach to help you understand your company’s obligations and what you need to do next. This guide kicks it off with a basic introduction to OSHA.

Why was OSHA Created?

Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It’s mission is to help employers and employees reduce on the job injuries, illnesses and deaths.

OSHA directs national compliance initiatives in occupational safety and health. Through the methods described below, OSHA helps business protect their workers and reduce the number of workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses. When employees stay safe and healthy, companies can reduce workers’ compensation insurance costs and medical expenses, decreased payout for return-to-work programs, reduce faulty products, and lower costs for job accommodations for injured workers. Indirectly, additional benefits such as increased productivity, lower training costs due to fewer replacement workers and decreased costs for overtime have also been attributed to OSHA’s research and guidance.

Since 1970, workplace deaths have been cut by more than 60 percent and occupational injuries and illnesses have declined 40 percent. In addition OSHA has conducted almost 39,000 inspections & issued over 85,000 citations for safety violations, and has assisted businesses with it’s Consultation Program by making over 31,000 visits to employers.

What does OSHA do?

OSHA employs the following strategies to help employers and employees reduce injuries, illnesses, and deaths on the job:

  • Enforcement – making sure OSHA Regulations are followed
  • Assistance – outreach & training to employers and employees
  • Cooperation – partnerships and alliances through voluntary programs

OSHA promotes workplace safety and health by:

  • Implementing new (or improved) safety and health management systems.
  • Completing worksite inspections. Companies failing to OSHA Regulations may be cited and/or fined.
  • Promoting cooperative programs including Voluntary Protection Programs, OSHA Strategic Partnerships, and other industry Alliances.
  • Establishing specific rights and responsibilities of employees and employers.
  • Supporting innovation in dealing with workplace hazards.
  • Establishing recordkeeping and reporting requirements for employers.
  • Developing training programs for occupational safety and health personnel.
  • Partnering with states that operate their own occupational safety and health programs.
  • Supporting the OSHA Consultation Program.

Are we required to comply?

The OSH Act covers private sector employers/employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands as defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

The OSH Act covers employers and employees either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program.

The OSH Act does not cover:

  • Self-employed
  • Immediate family of farm employers that do not have outside workers
  • Federal agencies that have their own worker safety or health requirements
  • Employees of state and local governments. Some states have their own requirements covering state & local employees.

Federal Worker Coverage

Although OSHA completes worksite inspections for federal agencies, section 19 of the OSH Act makes federal agency heads responsible for providing safe and healthful working conditions for their employees and must comply with standards consistent with private sector employees.

OSHA Approved State Plans

Twenty two states have optioned to develop their own safety and health programs. The state plans must be at least as effective as Federal OSHA requirements. State plans covering the private sector also must cover state and local government employees. NOTE: The Connecticut, and Virgin Islands plans cover public sector (state and local government) employment only.

What are OSHA regulations?

In general, OSHA regulations (also referred to as “standards”) require employers:

  • Maintain conditions and/or adopt practices necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job.
  • Be familiar with and comply with standards applicable to their establishments.
  • Ensure that employees have and use personal protective equipment when required for safety and health.

In addition, the OSH Act instituted a “general duty clause” (Section 5(a)(1) which “requires that each employer “furnish … a place of employment which [is] free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees. ”

Personally, I have found it helpful to divide OSHA regulations into Six Management Centers. These centers are non-binding and of my own creation simply to help employers group general, commonly cited hazards into larger categories. Some of the sections in the Six Centers apply to OSHA specific regulations. Others may fall under the General Duty Clause, others still just make common sense and should be addressed. Please note that this list does not address every OSHA regulation and every industry. It is a general guideline only. The Six Management Centers include Administrative Safety, Exposure Control, Personal Protection, Facility Safety, Tools and Equipment, and Behaviors and Attitudes. A brief description of each center and safety topics related to each follows:

NOTE: This page will be continually updated as additional content is posted on the blog. Each of the content areas below will have their own section on the blog.

Administrative Safety

What are the tools you need to administer a safety and health program at your workplace?

  • Safety Program Development – How do you set up a safety program and make sure your team buys into it?
  • Accident Investigations – How do you deal with an accident after the fact? How do you prevent similar accidents from occurring again?
  • Emergency Planning – How do you plan for the unexpected? How do you teach your employees how to handle any emergency situation that may appear?
  • OSHA Recordkeeping – What are OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements and what must be done to comply?
  • Safety Audits – How do you regularly review your workplace, equipment, tools, and materials to ensure all hazards have been addressed?
  • State and Federal Posting Requirements – What are the Federal, State, and industry specific posting requirements that must be met at all of your work areas?

Exposure Control

How do you prevent your employees from the exposure to hazards?

  • Asbestos Safety – How do you protect your employees from asbestos exposure?
  • Bloodborne Pathogens – How do you protect your employees from blood related exposure, including needlestick injuries?
  • Hazardous Materials – How do you teach your employees how to read and understand hazardous material labeling? How do you put preventive measures in place so employees know how to deal with hazardous spills?
  • Hot and Cold Working Conditions – How do you prevent your employees from exposure to the risk of hot or cold work environments?
  • Lead Safety – How do you mitigate employee exposure to lead?
  • Right to Know/Hazard Communications – Are your employees and site visitors aware of the hazardous materials in your workplace? Do they understand how to protect themselves from these hazards?
  • Material Safety Data Sheets – Can your employees read and understand the MSDS forms for the materials they use?
  • Tuberculosis – Are your employees protected from Tuberculosis?

Personal Protection

How do you use protective equipment to protect your employees?

  • Back Safety – How do you protect your employees from normal day-to-day activities that may result in back injury?
  • Eye Safety – Do you have sufficient protection in place to care for the eye safety of your employees?
  • Fall Protection – Do you and your employees understand and correctly implement OSHA fall protection standards?
  • First Aid – What are the requirements as prescribed by OSHA for first aid training and aid stations?
  • Hand, Wrist, and Finger Safety – How do you protect your employees from hand, wrist, and finger injuries while on the job?
  • Hearing Safety – Do you require a hearing conservation program at your workplace?
  • Personal Protective Equipment – Have you thoroughly reviewed all your work processes and determined if personal protective equipment is required?
  • Respiratory Protection – Do your employees work in environments requiring respiratory protection? Are your employees properly trained to the use and maintenance of these protection devices?
  • Safety Showers and Eyewashes – Do you follow OSHA specific requirements for safety showers and eyewashes?

Facility Safety

How do you make sure your facilities are safe for your employees and visitors?

  • Confined Spaces – Do you require a confined space program at your workplace?
  • Electrical Safety – Have you established an electrical safety plan at your workplace and put preventive measures in place?
  • Ergonomics – Have you addressed ergonomics related injuries in both your production and office environments?
  • Fire Safety – Do you have the correct fire extinguishers in your office? Are they properly maintained? Do your employees know what to do in case of a fire?
  • Indoor Air Quality – Have you monitored your work areas for indoor air quality problems? Do you know what to look for and how to address potential risks?
  • Lockout Tagout – Do you have controls in place to protect workers from the accidental exposure to energy sources?
  • Material Handling – Do your employees know how to handle job related materials? Do they properly use/understand the tools available to aid in material handling while reducing the risk for loss or injury?
  • Office Safety – Do you have an office safety plan in place? Are you sure everything you need is included?
  • Slips, Trips, & Falls – Do you monitor walking and working surfaces for hazards that may result in slips, trips, or falls?

Tools and Equipment

How do you ensure your team knows how to safely use and maintain the tools and equipment at your workplace?

  • Compressed Gases – Do your employees know/understand how to safely use compressed gas cylinders?
  • Computer Safety – Do you have protective measures in place to address the repetitive injury issues associated with computers?
  • Crane Safety – Does your team know/understand how to operate and work around your cranes? Do you have a crane safety program & checklists in place to prevent accidents & injuries?
  • Driving Safety – Have you adopted a defensive driving program for your drivers?
  • Forklift Safety – Do you have certified forklift drivers at your workplace? Have other team members exposed to forklifts been trained how to effectively work around them?
  • Hand and Power Tool Safety – Have your employees been trained how to safely use the hand & power tools required for their jobs?
  • Ladder Safety – Do your employees know how to select the correct ladder for the job?
  • Machine Guarding – Do you regularly inspect your workplace to ensure all machine guarding is in place and not removed? Do you follow maintenance recommendations on your equipment to ensure guarding is functioning properly?
  • Rigging Safety – Do your employees know/understand correct rigging procedures?
  • Scaffolding Safety – Do you have supported/suspended scaffolding procedures in place?
  • Welding Safety – Are your employees trained to the safety precautions identified by OSHA for the various types of welding activities? Do you feel your employees are safe while working around welders?

Behavior and Attitude

How do you address the behaviors of employees and workplace visitors that may have an adverse effect on the safety and health of your team?

  • Conflict Resolution – How does your organization deal with conflict? Left to fester, workplace conflict can cause many problems, one of the worst is a lack of focus on the work at hand.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Do you have drug and alcohol prevention policies established?
  • Fitness and Wellness – Do you promote the fitness and health of your employees?
  • Harassment – How does your firm deal with employee & sexual harassment? Do you have measures in place to help protect employees from harassment?
  • Safety Housekeeping – Do you have a clean workplace? Have you trained your employees of the hazards of the “work around”?
  • Safety Orientations – Have you developed a thorough safety orientation program that addresses all the work processes an employee is responsible to perform and the safety precautions they are required to take?
  • Workplace Stress – Have you addressed issues associated with job stress and provide enough relief to employees to make sure stress does not expose them to other safety hazards?
  • Workplace Violence – Do you have a violence protection policy in place at your workplace?

What must we do to comply?

Employers have specific responsibilities under OSHA they must perform to ensure the safety and health of their workers. The following list is a summary of the most important ones:

  • Comply with OSHA Regulations – keep your workplace free from serious recognized hazards.
  • Monitor your workplace conditions to make sure they conform to OSHA standards.
  • Make sure tools and equipment are properly maintained prior to employee use.
  • Identify hazards for your employees by using color codes, posters, labels and signs.
  • Develop/maintain safe operating procedures and train employees follow the requirements.
  • Provide medical examinations and training when required by OSHA standards.
  • Post the OSHA Poster (or the state-plan equivalent) informing employees of their rights and responsibilities at a prominent location within the workplace.
  • Report any fatal accident or one that results in the hospitalization of three or more employees to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours.
  • Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. and give employees, former employees, and their representatives access to the OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300).
  • Provide employee medical & exposure records to employees or their authorized representatives upon their request.
  • Identify authorized employee representatives who may be asked to accompany the OSHA compliance officer during an inspection.
  • Do not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the Act.
  • Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved until the violation has been corrected, or for three working days, whichever is longer.
  • Correct violations by the deadline set in the OSHA citation and submit required verification documentation.