The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was developed to ensure that every working person in the nation is safe at his or her workplace. OSHA strives to achieve this mission through a set of standards created to regulate health practices and workplace safety all over the country. As a result, OSHA has been successful in all the 50 states. Out of the 50 states, 22 operate their own OSHA agencies. OSHA, however, monitors and finances these state programs.
Need for OSHA
In the early 20th century, the US workplace had become dangerous with people suffering from serious injuries and others even dying because of workplace accidents. As a result, several laws started popping up across the country with the aim of regulating workers’ health standards. Employees were also setting up their workplace standards that were still not sufficient because some states did not have a provision for this. This situation made it necessary for all stakeholders to come up with a set of consistent safety standards to ensure total protection of all employees. There was a need to ensure all workers were protected and able to enjoy their right to safety in the workplace. The OSH Act was thus introduced and passed by Congress in 1970. The Act established two agencies: OSHA, which administers and enforces it and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), which is a research organization. NIOSH is responsible for researching workplace safety and health and making recommendations to the OSHA. With the introduction of OSHA, fatalities dropped from 11 in 100 workers to 3 in 100 workers.
What employment is covered under OSHA?
OSHA governs occupational health and safety in the private sector. This includes private businesses and non-profit organizations. The workers in the public sector are not covered here, since they have their own safety and health plans. Categories for which OSHA has developed standards are construction, maritime, agriculture, and general industry, which covers all other sectors that do not fit in the other three. Some of the employers exempted from coverage by OSHA include self-employed people, farms that have employed only immediate family members, and people working in environments that are controlled and regulated by other government statutes like nuclear and mining.
Safety standards and enforcement
Different workplaces have different safety standards depending on the work environment. There are head protection standards, eye, and face standards, among many others. These standards provide that employees should be provided with the necessary equipment and medical covers in the event of an accident or injurious incident. Some hazards do not have specific standards, but employers are bound by the general duty clause in the Act to protect their employees against such risks. In such situations, OSHA has a provision for awareness campaigns to educate workers and employers.
OSHA regulations also allow full enforcement of these standards on organizations and businesses through inspections that can be scheduled or occur unannounced. Inspections are mostly conducted when:
• A complaint has been submitted
• The workplace is classified as a high hazard business or a high number of injuries is reported
• Catastrophic injuries in the workplace have led to death or hospitalization
• Imminent danger to employees has been identified
• Follow-up on a previous inspection
Employees are also encouraged to report malpractice at their workplaces and are protected by the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Act that prevents employers from taking action on employees who complain about OSHA violations.
Education, training, and resources
Training is the most crucial component of OSHA. OSHA collaborates with different partners to offer different options for employers and employees alike. Training materials, such as videos, posters, booklets, and fact sheets, are available on the OSHA website. OSHA also has training requirements for employers that are thoroughly enforced. Employers should have OSHA posters displayed at prominent locations at work to inform workers about their rights. Hazardous substances should be well labeled and training conducted on the handling of such substances. Other provisions include fire emergency training, first aid and bloodborne pathogen handling, and requirements for incident reporting.
OSHA also offers the following resources to small businesses:
• On-site health hazard evaluations by NIOSH on request
• Free on-site safety consultations that only point out the potential hazards
• Compliance seminars for employers
• SHARP (Safety and Health Recognition Program) that is open to employers who have received training on on-site