Created as part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA is an organization dedicated to ensuring a safe and healthy workplace for all workers. It comes under the United States Department of Labor and establishes and enforces standards for safe working conditions. OSHA also conducts training and education programs, provides outreach, and is a platform for seeking assistance as well.
You may refer to this resource to get an overview of OSHA.
OSHA applies to almost all of the private sector workplaces and certain public sector undertakings. While the general industry standards advocate best safety practices and procedures and apply to most workplaces, there are other standards specific to construction, maritime, and agriculture industries.
These standards cover rules to limit exposure to chemicals and harmful substances like asbestos, provide fall protection, prevent infectious diseases, ensure the safe use of machinery and equipment, provide safety equipment, train workers, and more.
OSHA does not have one but multiple standards that cover methods to be used by employers to provide their employees with a safe workplace and prevent them from hazards. These include general industry standards, specifically construction, maritime, agriculture, and standards related to recordkeeping and whistleblowers. While the standards related to general industry, construction, and agriculture are detailed in 29 CFR 1910, 29 CFR 1926, and 29CFR 1928, those related to maritime are spread across different parts of 29 CFR.
The OSHA recordkeeping standards are covered in 29 CFR 1904. The agency provides whistleblower protection across different statues that you may access here. Additionally, employers are required to comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act and ensure their workplaces are free of serious recognized hazards.
The OSHA standard 1910.145 provides specifications about accident prevention signs and tags. The standard provides information about the design, application, and use of OSHA safety signs and labels classified into danger, caution, safety instruction, biological hazard, and warning. The design specifications cover colors, sign corners, and edges, placement of fastening devices, and sign wording.
Industry-specific OSHA standards may prescribe additional safety signage requirements.
OSHA inspections are conducted based on the order of priority, with imminent danger situations at the top of the order followed by severe injuries and illnesses, worker complaints, referrals, targeted inspections, and follow-up inspections.
Inspections can be conducted over phone/fax or on the site. Telephonic inspections are usually complaint-based and involve OSHA contacting the employer to investigate and elaborate on the safety/health concern. The employer is faxed details about the reported health/safety hazards and must respond within five days. OSHA then conducts an on-site inspection if it finds the employer's response unsatisfactory.
On-site inspections require preparation on OSHA’s part, where the inspection history of a worksite is researched. During the inspection, the compliance officer conducting the inspection presents his/her credentials and explains the reason and scope. The officer usually walks around the workplace with an employer-assigned representative and often, an employee representative as well. A fair number of employees are also interviewed as a part of the inspection.
During the walkaround, the officer identifies violations, reviews the posting of OSHA poster, and also looks at the worksite injury and illness records. The officer then recommends the possible plans of action to the employer and the employee representative. OSHA consultation services and employee rights are also discussed towards the end of the inspection.
OSHA grants workers certain rights to keep in tune with the federal law that entitles workers to a safe workplace. In addition to the right to receive safety and health training, have access to safe machines and equipment, be protected from hazardous chemicals and substances, report injuries/illnesses, and access records of workplace injuries/illnesses and results of workplace hazard tests. OSHA also identifies workers’ right to request an OSHA inspection and report unsafe practices.
Additionally, OSHA also protects workers from retaliation by deeming the firing, demotion, transfer, or other forms of retaliation against a complainant as illegal. Such a complainant can file a whistleblower complaint no later than 30 days of the said retaliation.
OSHA uses penalties to ensure enforcement of its standards and regulations. These penalties are divided into three categories - serious/non-serious/posting requirements, failure to abate, and willful or repeated - and are applicable as $13,494 per violation, $13,494 per day beyond the abatement date, and $134,937 per violation, respectively. Please refer to the OSHA penalties section for details.
In certain situations involving immediate on-site risk, OSHA may ask a business to halt operation until the risk is resolved. In rare and extreme situations, OSHA may cause a workplace to shut down upon court order.
OSHA provides rather comprehensive guidance and resources related to the coronavirus disease. The employer's responsibility to provide workers with a workplace that is free from recognized hazards capable of causing serious physical harm or death applies to the Covid-19 pandemic as well. However, there is no single Covid-19-specific standard but different regulations for creating and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.
These regulations cover the use of PPE, including eyes and face protection, gloves, and respiratory protection, and protecting employees from the hazards related to using chemical-containing cleaning and disinfecting substances. OSHA also requires employers to record work-related Covid-19 infections.
Please read the OSHA guidelines linked above for more details.