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OSHA 101

Every HR professional, manager and CEO should become familiar with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for ensuring safe conditions for workers.

Employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces. OSHA sets the standards and provides education, training and assistance to reach that goal.

The law that established the agency is the OSH Act, which covers most private sector employers and their workforce. However, some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states and territories also fall under its jurisdiction. These include the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, Johnston Island, Wake Island, the Northern Mariana Islands and other Outer Continental Shelf lands.

The agency has 10 regional federal offices and 28 states have individual plans to cover workers.

Most private-sector employers are covered by the Federal OSHA or OSHA-approved state plans.

Employees for state and local government agencies are not covered by federal OSHA but have other protections through state programs.

All federal agencies fall under OSHA. The agency monitors federal agencies and occasionally conducts on-site inspections.

OSHA Inspections in 2020: 21,674

Unprogrammed Inspections: 12,948

Programmed Inspections: 8,726

Complaint Inspections: 4,581

Fatality/Catastrophe Inspections: 1,508

Maximum OSHA Fines beginning Jan. 15, 2021:

  • Posting requirements – $13,653 per violation
  • Failure to abate – $13,653 per day beyond abatement date
  • Willful or repeated – $136,532 per violation

What OSHA Inspections Entail

Some 7 million worksites fall under OSHA jurisdiction. OSHA focuses its inspections on the most hazardous workplaces in this priority:

  1. Imminent Danger: These hazards can cause serious physical harm or even death and are a top priority. Compliance officers ask for immediate correction of hazardous situations or to remove endangered employees.
  2. Severe injuries and illnesses: Employers are required to report all work-related fatalities within eight hours. They also must, within 24 hours, report any work-related inpatient hospitalizations, eye losses, or amputations.
  3. Worker complaints: These complaints are also considered high priority and include allegations of hazards or violations. Employees can request anonymity when filing these complaints.
  4. Referrals of hazards from any government agency or individual.
  5. Targeted inspections: This type of inspection is aimed at specific high-hazard industries or workplaces with high rates of illnesses or injuries.
  6. Follow-up inspections: These inspections check for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections.

All inspections are prioritized based on their severity. If it is a low priority, an OSHA inspector may telephone an employer and describe the safety and health concerns. They would then follow up with a fax providing details of the complaint. The employer has five days to respond in writing, noting corrective action either taken or planned. If satisfied, OSHA does not generally conduct an on-site inspection.

When conducting an on-site inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the history of the worksite and consider which standards apply. They gather personal protective equipment for testing and they test instruments for potential hazards.

A conference is held to describe the scope of the inspection. The employer selects a company representative to accompany the compliance officer. Employees may also be represented during an inspection.

The OSHA officers and representatives walk through the site looking for any hazards that could lead to illness or injury. Then, the officer may point out immediate fixes, though they will still be cited, all the while minimizing work interruptions.

Following the walk-around, the officer will discuss a course of action with the employers and may issue citations or fines.

Knowing how OSHA operates and what to expect should they arrive at your worksite will put you in a position of being better equipped to comply and to react.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.