Introduction To Workplace Safety
Updated: Jan 10
Hello and welcome to our first blog. The goal of this blog is to help you understand how to keep your company in compliance with workplace safety (OSHA) rules and keep your employees safe and have some fun. So be patient and we will keep you up-to-date.
Let’s get started…I hope you understand what OSHA stands for–The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Labor. OSHA’s responsibility is worker safety and health protection.
The U.S. Congress created OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (The OSH Act). Congress passed the law and established OSHA “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.”
Does OSHA Cover Me?
The answer is unfortunately, yes. If you have one or more employees, then you are an employer. As an employer, you are obligated to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). There are very few exceptions.
It doesn’t just apply to General Industry and Construction sites, or only to hazardous jobs. It applies to allemployers. Office work is covered. Retail stores are covered. If you employ anyone to do any kind of work, you must observe the OSH Act. If you want to learn more, you can purchase our bestselling book, “The OSHA Answer Book” in our safety store.
You must observe OSHA requirements, even though you are unaware of any hazardous conditions. It can be compared with IRS income tax rule that requires you to file a return, even if you do not owe any taxes.
Employers are cited when the OSHA violation is an employee’s fault, such as failure to wear a hard hat, safety shoes, or goggles. OSHA places the onus, on employers. The law provides that each employer is supposed to make sure that every employee observes all safety requirements. There is no small business exemption. Employers with 10 or fewer employees don’t have to keep injury/illness records and are exempt from some OSHA inspections, but they must comply with all safety and health standards.
Virtually all private employers, even those with only one employee, are covered by OSHA. The test is whether an occupation is within a class of activities that affects commerce. Activities which affect interstate commerce might be purchasing tools from companies which are located out of state to perform interstate business.
So even if there is only one employee, OSHA jurisdiction will attach.
There are some exceptions. An independent subcontractor will not be interpreted as an employee, even under OSHA. Where an employee is loaned to another employer, however, the employer responsibility for OSHA violations will depend upon the nature of the supervision and other circumstances.
Although the law holds an employer liable for OSHA violations, regardless of whether the employee is exposed to the hazard or on his own, OSHA still has the burden of proof establishing that some employment relation exists between the employees exposed to a safety hazard and the employer cited for the violation.
What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?
On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed the OSH Act. This created OSHA, the government agency, which formally came into being on April 28, 1971. With the creation of OSHA, for the first time, all employers in the United States had the legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees and, there were now safety regulations that applied to all workplaces.
Small employers (10 employees or less) are exempt from programmed inspections and injury and illness reporting. This doesn’t mean that you are not subject to other OSHA requirements.
As an employer under the Act, if a person is engaged in a business affecting commerce that has employees, but does not include the United States or any state, or political subdivision of a state; you are probably subject to OSHA requirements if you:
Are in control of the actions of your employee;
Have power over the employee; and
Can fire the employee.
The usual indications of an employment relationship, such as who pays the employee, is not part of the definition of an employer under OSHA. There are special circumstances, if you are one of multiple employers, or if you have workers other than your employees.
Who Must Observe the Law?
It doesn’t just apply to manufacturing plants and construction sites, or only to hazardous jobs. It applies to all employers. Office work is covered. Retail stores are covered. If you employ anyone to do any kind of work, you must observe the OSH Act.
To reiterate, you must observe the OSHA requirements even though you are unaware of any hazardous conditions. It can be compared with the income tax rule that requires you to file a return, even if you don’t owe taxes.
Employers are cited even when the OSHA violation is an employee’s fault. For example, such as failure to wear a hard hat, safety shoes, or goggles. OSHA places the responsibility on the employer.
The law provides that each employer is supposed to make sure that employees observe all safety requirements.
While employers with 10 or fewer employees don’t have to keep injury or illness records and are exempt from some OSHA inspections, they must comply with all OSHA safety and health standards.
What Does the Law Require?
There are thousands of OSHA requirements. They include:
Sanitation and Air Quality Requirements
Machine Use, Maintenance, and Repair
Posting Notices and Warnings
Reporting Accidents and Illnesses
Adopting Written Compliance Programs
Employee Training Requirements
That’s just a sample. There are several thousand others.
OSHA violations occur when you do not observe all the requirements that apply. Simply running a safe operation is not enough, and ignorance of the law is no excuse! The penalties for noncompliance are severe. Million-dollar fines are not unusual.
But that’s not all. You could go to jail or be sued for millions, even if you have never received an OSHA inspection!
An Example of not Complying with the OSH Act:
William Boss hired Joe Workman to do some painting. Boss didn’t know that Workman had a slight asthmatic condition. Working with the paint severely aggravated Workman’s condition. He had to be hospitalized and nearly died. He can never work again. Boss was sued for $10 million because he failed to heed the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) warnings for the paint. No one should use the paint unless first given a pulmonary function test. The fact that Boss didn’t know about the SDS warnings or Workman’s asthma, was no defense. There is an OSHA requirement that a SDS sheet must be obtained for all products that contain hazardous chemicals and that each employer must provide training to his or her employees on the SDS provisions. Boss did not do that.
Everyone can learn a lesson from the example above. If you are required to provide protection, give a warning, provide employee training, or use compliance methods, and you have not complied because you didn’t know about it, the consequences could be severe. If someone is hurt or becomes disabled you could face criminal charges or a multi-million-dollar liability suit, or both. And your defenses may be weak, because ignorance of the law is no excuse! OSHA could also impose sanctions, even if no one was hurt. For more information, you can purchase our bestselling book “The OSHA Answer Book” in our safety store.