Occupational Safety and Health – OSH Act

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 empowers OSHA to enforce rules pertaining to health and safety in the workplace.

The OSH Act assigns OSHA two regulatory functions:

  1. setting standards; and
  2. conducting inspections to ensure that employers are providing safe and healthful workplaces.

OSHA standards may require that employers adopt certain practices, means, methods, or processes reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards and provide workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards.

Even in areas where OSHA has not set forth a standard addressing a specific hazard, employers are responsible for complying with the OSH Act’s “general duty” clause. The general duty clause [Section 5(a)(1)] states that each employer “shall 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.”

Training plays a key role in the prevention of accidents and OSHA compels companies to provide sufficient safety training in a language that workers fully understand.

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Who is Covered Under the OSH Act?

The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories. Coverage is provided either directly by the Federal OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state job safety and health plan.

Federal OSHA also covers certain workers specifically excluded from a state plan, such as 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 OSHA but are protected under the OSH Act if they work in states that have OSHA-approved state programs. States and territories may also develop plans that cover only public sector (state and local government) workers.

The OSH Act established a separate program for federal government employees. Section 19 of the OSH Act makes federal agency heads responsible for providing safety and healthful working conditions. Although OSHA does not fine federal agencies, it does monitor them and conducts inspections in response to workers’ reports of hazards. Under a 1998 amendment to the OSH Act, the U.S. Postal Service is covered under the OSH Act just like any private sector employer.

The Act does not cover:

  • Self-employed persons;
  • Farms which employ only immediate members of the farmer’s family;
  • Working conditions for which other Federal agencies, operating under the authority of other Federal laws, regulate worker safety. This category includes most working conditions in mining, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons manufacture, and many aspects of the transportation industries; and
  • Employees of state and local governments, unless they are in one of the states operating an OSHA-approved state plan

Federal OSHA Standards

OSHA standards are grouped into four major categories:

  1. general industry (29 CFR 1910);
  2. construction (29 CFR 1926);
  3. maritime (shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring—29 CFR 1915-19); and
  4. agriculture (29 CFR 1928).

While some standards are specific to just one category, others apply across industries. Among the standards with similar requirements for all sectors of industry are those that address access to medical and exposure records, personal protective equipment, and hazard communication.

Description of OSHA Laws and Regulations

The OSHA Act defines regulatory parameters, which OSHA uses to regulate safety and health issues. It requires that all employees and employers must comply with general or industry-specific standards. The requirements extend to areas that the agency is yet to set standards dealing with a specific hazard.

The Act is aimed at different types of workplaces and employers, including commercial, industrial, and religious organizations. The latter is covered if an entity employs individuals for secular purposes. Airlines and nuclear facilities are included as well. Some of the key areas covered by the OSHA regulatory framework include:

  • Confined spaces
  • Infectious diseases
  • Electrical hazards
  • Machine hazards
  • Hazardous waste
  • Dangerous atmospheres
  • Toxic substances
  • Explosion dangers
  • Fire hazards

How to Avoid Workplace Accidents and OSHA Penalties

OSHA is entrusted with the responsibility to enforce laws and regulations. It achieves the purpose by conducting inspections and issuing penalties for noncompliance. The agency is permitted to revise the applicable fines upwards in a bid to deter noncompliance. Serious violations can cost employers thousands of dollars.

Companies can take the following measures to prevent violations and penalties:

  • Enforce regulatory compliance – doing so helps you avoid liability in the event of a jobsite accident. It also bolsters safety practices.
  • Eliminate hazards – rectifying any potential hazards is one way to help prevent and minimize accidents.
  • Ensure workers are mentally and physically healthy – many work-related accidents are caused by physical and mental fatigue.

Reference: Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act)