What Is OSHA? Why Is It Important?

OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s a government agency under the US Department of Labor tasked with worker safety and health protection.

If you’re working anywhere in the US, you’ve probably heard of OSHA. Even if you haven’t, they still have jurisdiction over your workplace’s safety standards. As such, your company has to follow OSHA’s rules or risk penalty and even foreclosure.

Brief History of OSHA

Before 1970, there were no national laws that promote worker safety and health. Work-related accidents back then were considered unfortunate incidents. And worker’s safety wasn’t much of a priority. But certain events would change this and would eventually lead to the creation of OSHA.

In 1911, New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company burned to the ground. The incident killed almost 146 employees, most of whom were young female immigrants working long hours for low wages. It turns out the factory doors were locked and there was no fire escaped. Naturally, this caused public outrage and a demand for workplace safety and health reform.

Then World War 1 came and concerns about workplace safety and health conditions worsened. So the government created a Working Conditions Service to help inspect plants and reduce hazards.

But until the 1930s workplace safety policies remained confined to state laws and regulations. And these regulations can vary widely.

In the 1960s, more than 2 million workers were injured in work-related accidents each year. Of these, more than 14,000 died. This prompted the federal government to enact the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. From there, OSHA was born.

A worker in a yellow safety vest has fallen down.

What is OSHA’s Purpose?

Every year, thousands of US workers get injured or die from work-related accidents. Most of these accidents could have been prevented if proper workplace safety protocols were observed.

This is what OSHA is for. Its primary purpose is to make workplaces safer thus preventing unnecessary loss of life (or limbs). Since it was created, it has remained true to its mission which is:

to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

To enforce their mandate, OSHA:

  • formulate and issue safety standards and protocols
  • conduct inspections to ensure compliance with standards
  • handle employee complaints regarding workplace safety
  • provides assistance to employers through their on-site consultation, compliance assistance, and cooperative programs
  • conducts safety training and distributes educational materials and online newsletters.

Who Does OSHA Cover?

As mentioned, OSHA is tasked with ensuring worker safety. But not all workplaces in the US are under jurisdiction. For now, OSHA only covers:

1. Private Sector Workers

Almost all private sector workers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other US jurisdictions. They are under either the Federal OSHA or an OSHA-approved state program.

2. Federal Government Workers

All federal government agencies are under OSHA jurisdiction. And even though it cannot penalize these agencies, they do monitor them and respond to workers’ complaints.

3. Certain State and Local Government Workers

State and local government employees are not covered by federal OSHA. But they do have protection in states that have their own programs.

OSHA does not cover self-employed workers and workplace hazards regulated by other government agencies.

Can OSHA Shut Down a Company?

Technically, OSHA has no power to shut down a business. Only a court order can do that. But OSHA inspectors can issue a stop-work order if they find a severe risk on site. They can also impose penalties on employers who are violating OSHA standards.

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Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca LawAbout The Author

Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca Law P.A. and enjoys helping people with questions about social security, workers compensation, and other serious matters involving people’s livelihood. She is not an attorney and her writing should not be considered legal advice.

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