Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

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Introduction

On December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) into law, establishing OSHA. Coupled with the efforts of employers, workers, safety and health professionals, unions and advocates, OSHA and its state partners have dramatically improved workplace safety, reducing work-related deaths and injuries by more than 65 percent.

In 1970, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job – about 38 every day. For 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports this number fell to about 4,500 or about 12 workers per day. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled to over 130 million workers at more than 7.2 million worksites. The rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has also dropped markedly, from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.5 per 100 workers in 2010.

In addition to the direct impact on individual workers, the negative consequences for America’s economy are substantial. Occupational injuries and illnesses cost American employers more than $53 billion a year – over $1 billion a week – in workers’ compensation costs alone. Indirect costs to employers, including lost productivity, employee training and replacement costs, and time for investigations following injuries can more than double these costs. Workers and their families suffer great emotional and psychological costs, in addition to the loss of wages and the costs of caring for the injured, which further weakens the economy.

OSHA’s Mission

Congress created OSHA to assure safe and healthful conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and compliance assistance. Under the OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers. For more information, visit OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov.

OSHA Coverage

The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Those jurisdictions include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands as defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Federal Government Workers

OSHA’s protection applies to all federal agencies. Section 19 of the OSH Act makes federal agency heads responsible for providing safe and healthful working conditions for their workers. Although OSHA does not fine federal agencies, it does monitor these agencies and conducts federal workplace inspections in response to workers’ reports of hazards. Federal agencies must have a safety and health program that meets the same standards as private employers. Under a 1998 amendment, the Act covers the U.S. Postal Service the same as any private sector employer.

Not Covered under the OSH Act

• The self-employed;

• Immediate family members of farm employers; and

• Workplace hazards regulated by another federal agency (for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Energy, Federal Aviation Administration, or Coast Guard).

Rights and Responsibilities under OSHA Law

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Employers MUST provide their workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safetyand health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires that employers must first try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in working conditions rather than relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs. Switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to eliminate or reduce risks.

Employers MUST Also

• Inform workers about chemical hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets and other methods.

• Provide safety training to workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.

• Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.

• Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSHA standards.

• Provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.*

• Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards.

• Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them.

• Notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality or when three or more workers are hospitalized.

• Prominently display the official OSHA Job Safety and Health – It’s the Law poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.

• Not retaliate or discriminate against workers for using their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness.

  • Employers must pay for most types of required personal protective equipment.

Workers have the right to:

• Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.

• File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected.

• Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be done in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

• Receive copies of records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their Workplace.

• Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in their workplace.

• Receive copies of their workplace medical records.

• Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.

• File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated or discriminated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the OSH Act.

• File a complaint if punished or discriminated against for acting as a “whistleblower” underthe 21 additional federal laws for which OSHA has jurisdiction.


OSHA Standards

OSHA’s Construction, General Industry, Maritime and Agriculture standards protect workers from a wide range of serious hazards. Examples of OSHA standards include requirements for employers to:

• provide fall protection;

• prevent trenching cave-ins;

• prevent exposure to some infectious diseases;

• ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces;

• prevent exposure to harmful chemicals;

• put guards on dangerous machines;

• provide respirators or other safety equipment; and

• provide training for certain dangerous jobs in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. This clause requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards and is generally cited when no specific OSHA standard applies to the hazard.

OSHA Enforcement Activities: Carrying Out Our Mission

Enforcement plays an important part in OSHA’s efforts to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. When OSHA finds employers who fail to uphold their safety and health responsibilities, the agency takes strong, decisive actions. Inspections are initiated without advance notice, conducted using on-site or telephone and facsimile investigations, performed by highly trained compliance officers and scheduled based on the following priorities:

• Imminent danger;

• Catastrophes – fatalities or hospitalizations;

• Worker complaints and referrals;

• Targeted inspections – particular hazards, high injury rates; and

• Follow-up inspections.

Current workers or their representatives may file a written complaint and ask OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA standards. Workers and their representatives have the right to ask for an inspection without OSHA telling their employer who filed the complaint. It is a violation of the OSH Act for an employer to fire, demote, transfer or in any way discriminate against a worker for filing a complaint or using other OSHA rights.

When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. A citation includes methods an employer may use to fix a problem and the date by which the corrective actions must be completed. Employers have the right to contest any part of the citation, including whether a violation actually exists. Workers only have the right to challenge the deadline by which a problem must be resolved. Appeals of citations are heard by the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).

Severe Violator Enforcement Program

OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) became effective on June 18, 2010. The program focuses enforcement efforts on employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards. The SVEP directive establishes procedures and enforcement actions for these violators, including mandatory follow-up inspections of workplaces found in violation and inspections of other worksites of the same company where similar hazards or deficiencies may be present.

General Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements

All employers must report to OSHA within eight hours of learning about:

• The death of any worker from a work-related incident; and

• The in-patient hospitalization of three or more workers as a result of a work-related incident.

In addition, employers must report all fatal heart attacks that occur at work. Deaths from motor vehicle accidents on public streets (except those in a construction work zone) and in accidents on commercial airplanes, trains, subways or buses do not need to be reported. These reports may be made by telephone or in person to the nearest OSHA area office or by calling OSHA's toll-free number, 1-800-321-OSHA [6742].

Filing a Complaint

Hazardous Workplace Complaints If a workplace has unsafe or unhealthful working conditions, workers may want to file a complaint. Often the best and fastest way to get a hazard corrected is to notify a supervisor or employer.

Workers or their representatives may file a complaint online or by phone, mail, email or fax with the nearest OSHA office and request an inspection. A worker may also ask OSHA not to reveal his or her name. To file a complaint, call 1- 800-321-OSHA [6742] or contact the nearest OSHA regional, area, state plan, or consultation office.

Written, signed complaints submitted to OSHA area offices are more likely to result in an on-site OSHA inspection. Most online or unsigned complaints are resolved informally over the phone with the employer. Complaints from workers in states with an OSHA-approved state plan will be forwarded to the appropriate state plan for response.

OSHA's Whistleblower Program: Protection from Discrimination

To help ensure that workers are free to participate in safety and health activities, Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits any person from discharging or in any manner retaliating or discriminating against any worker for exercising rights under the Act. These rights include raising safety and health concerns with an employer, reporting a work-related injury or illness, filing a complaint with OSHA, seeking an OSHA inspection, participating in an OSHA inspection and participating or testifying in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.


Protection from discrimination means that an employer cannot retaliate by taking “adverse action” against workers, such as:

• Firing or laying off;

• Blacklisting;

• Demoting;

• Denying overtime or promotion;

• Disciplining;

• Denying of benefits;

How to Contact OSHA

For questions or to get information or advice, to report an emergency, report a fatality or catastrophe, order publications, sign up for OSHA’s e-newsletter, or to file a confidential complaint, contact your nearest OSHA office, visit http://www.osha.gov or call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), TTY 1-877-889-5627.

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Contributors

Kofi Arhin, Deroiste