OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, oversees health and safety in the workplace. President Nixon may be remembered for other reasons today, but 50 years ago, his administration was responsible for bringing OSHA to life. This vital public health organization aims to ensure that every worker is kept safe at work.
What is OSHA’s purpose?
OSHA sets and mandates workplace safety and health requirements. It also offers safety training and education programs, requires employers to record incidents and report serious safety breaches.
OSHA and workplace safety
Every workplace should be a safe place. That is OSHA’s mantra and its reason for existence. A safe workplace is a right for every worker and OSHA continues to support those employed in dangerous workplaces today. In 1970 an average of 38 workers a day were killed in work-related incidents. By 2018, this figure had dropped by over 60%. 14 workers a day lost their lives in 2018. To OSHA, that is still 14 workers too many, but the figures show how continuous enforcement and awareness can help to reduce risk.
How does OSHA maintain workplace safety?
Apart from offering wide-ranging training and education programs to improve employee awareness of safety and workplace health, OSHA’s standards are legally enforceable regulations. These mandatory standards cover occupations widely regarded as hazardous or even life-threatening, including construction, industry of all kinds, seafaring and agricultural roles.
Companies must show that they can comply with the relevant OSHA guidelines to prevent unnecessary employee exposure to dangerous situations. These are the sort of events which could land their staff in hospital and result in hefty medical expenses. Employers are expected to take reasonable action to guard their staff against injury and danger including:
- Dangerous or unguarded machinery
- Exposure to some infectious diseases
- Exposure to harmful chemicals
Responsibilities for employers
Employers are expected to follow OSHA standards…as standard. They should work with their staff to find and solve existing safety challenges, as well as providing a safe workspace by removing or lowering risks in the general environment. Personal safety devices such as masks, gloves, earplugs and safety shoes should be provided for every worker who needs them. Mandatory training should be provided to instruct the workforce on their expected behavior in certain common situations.
Each employer should display the OSHA Workplace Safety and Health poster which describes the rights and requirements expected by the OSH Act. These are broadly described as follows:
- The company should communicate often with their workforce, reinforcing the basic rules around workplace safety and employee health.
- Updates on hazards relating to each workplace should be easily available and hazardous equipment and substances should be clearly labeled so that everyone can understand the risks.
- Training should be regularly provided in simple terms, again with everyone in mind.
- The employer should keep detailed records of accidents and illnesses related to the conditions or roles within the workplace.
- Air sampling, safety audits and other assessments should be carried out regularly. OSHA regulations provide guidance for some areas.
- Workers should be provided with personal protective equipment as standard, at the expense of the company.
- Likewise, the cost of any necessary medical tests should be covered by the employer.
- It is a requirement that the company displays citations and disease information prominently. This may be best shown alongside the OSH Job Safety and Health poster.
- An employer is required to notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality. They should notify OSHA within 24 hours of any accident or incident which requires inpatient admission of an employee, including when the incident or accident leads to amputation or loss of sight. This can be done by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742).
- Finally, firms should not threaten any worker who reports a work-related accident or illness.
Employee rights under OSHA
Workers are entitled to feel safe at work. If they consider that they are at risk because the company is not meeting OSHA guidelines, they can request in writing that OSHA conducts an inspection. This inspection is anonymous and OSHA will not reveal the “whistleblower”, or instigator of the request. It is against the OSH Act for an employer to target an employee they suspect of having requested such an inspection.
The inspection can be requested for a suspected breach of any of the basic rules around safety and health at work, including but not limited to, training, supply of PPE, reporting of accidents and incidents, provision of paperwork relating to risks, tests and surveillance.
OSHA compliance is not complicated
Workplace safety can feel like a minefield for the uninitiated. However, these days, there is plenty of software available. One of these apps is CloudApper Safety, which is specifically designed to help workplaces comply with OSHA standards. It offers a helping hand with the record keeping which OSHA legally requires and is an easy place to store training and compliance paperwork.