What Is OSHA? Why Is It Important?

OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s a government agency under the United States 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 most likely 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 workers’ health and safety weren’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 escape. 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 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.”

OSHA acts on this mandate by:

  • formulating and issuing safety standards and protocols
  • conducting inspections to ensure compliance with standards
  • handling employee complaints regarding workplace safety
  • providing assistance to employers through their on-site consultation, compliance assistance, and cooperative programs
  • conducting safety training and distributing 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 its jurisdiction. For now, OSHA only covers:

1. Private Sector Workers

This includes 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 also have to comply with OSHA standards. And even though it cannot penalize these agencies, they do monitor them and respond to worker 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.

The OSHA Standards

OSHA Standards are a set of policies and regulations that guides employers on how to create and maintain a safe workplace free from hazards. It covers various industries and applies to most worksites no matter the nature of the business’ operations.

These standards laid down certain guidelines for workplace health and safety such as:

  • limiting the amount of exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • regular monitoring of hazards
  • recording workplace injuries and illnesses
  • implementing safety practices
  • using safety equipment and tools like respirators and hard hats
  • ensuring workers’ safety in confined spaces
  • providing protection from falls
  • preventing trenching cave-ins
  • putting in place precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases
  • providing adequate training for dangerous jobs
    ensuring that business activities don’t harm both employers and employees as well as the workplace’s environmental health

Even if there is no particular standard applicable to a company’s operations, employers are still bound by the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. It requires that employers must protect their employees from all “serious recognized hazards.” This gives OSHA the ability to recognize and respond to previously unknown workplace hazards.

What to Do If Your Employer Violates OSHA Standards

According to OSHA, any employer who willfully violates any of their standards may be fined up to $7,000 for each violation. And if that violation caused the death of an employee, the fine can be raised up to $10,000, imprisonment of not more than 6 months, or both.

Unfortunately, these fines sometimes don’t prevent employers from blatantly disregarding OSHA standards. If your employer has violated OSHA standards and is endangering you and your co-workers or has caused work-related injuries, you can file a complaint to OSHA. You may call your local OSHA office or download the PDF complaint form and mail or fax it to them. An electronic complaint form is also available on the OSHA website. Make sure to comply with all OSHA reporting requirements for your complaint to be processed on time.

After receiving the complaint, an OSHA inspector will then visit your workplace to assess the veracity of the report. If they find that your employer did indeed violate certain standards, they’ll be meted with applicable penalties.

But before reporting to OSHA, the agency recommends that you settle your complaint with your employer first. OSHA inspections and penalties may not only disrupt business operations. It may also cause a financial burden on your employer and may even lead to the closure of the business and loss of jobs for you and your colleagues.

Can an OSHA Violation Affect Workers Compensation Claim?

No, your employer’s OSHA violation will not affect your ability to file a workers’ compensation claim. But it may make it easier for you to get your workers comp claim approved.

You see, the act creating OSHA specifically prohibits it from interfering with the state’s workers’ compensation programs. This means they can’t influence the state’s workers comp laws much less an individual workers comp claim. Besides, most states have a no-fault policy for workers’ compensation. Meaning, whoever is responsible for the accident or the injury, you’ll still be able to get workers’ compensation benefits.

However, the fact that your employer violated OSHA standards will make it clear that there is indeed a safety hazard in your workplace. And that hazard directly or indirectly caused your injury. In short, it will make it easier for you to prove that your injury is work-related. This is especially helpful if your injury is cumulative in nature and there is no clear evidence that you got it in the workplace.

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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Victor Malca P.A. has over 27 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success when fighting for his clients puts him among the most trusted workers’ compensation attorney’s in Florida. He specializes in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claiming lost social security disability benefits.

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About The Author

Judy Ponio is a writer and editor for the Victor Malca Law P.A. website and blog. She enjoys helping people in need with questions about social security disability and workers compensation law. She has a passion for helping those in need and the elderly with accurate legal information that can make a positive difference in their lives.