On December 29, 1970, U.S. 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. By applying ‘OSHA Standards’, OSHA and its state partners have dramatically improved workplace safety, reducing work-related fatalities by almost 63 percent.
Congress created OSHA to assure safe and healthful conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing ‘OSHA Standards’ and providing training, outreach, education and compliance assistance.
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
- 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 when no specific OSHA standard applies to the hazard.
THE OSHA STANDARDS-SETTING PROCESS
OSHA has the authority to issue new or revised occupational safety and health standards. OSHA can begin standards-setting procedures on its own initiative or in response to recommendations or petitions from other parties, including:
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) the research agency for occupational safety and health.
- State and local governments
- Nationally recognized standards-producing organizations
- Employer or labor representatives
- Any other interested parties.
TO DEVELOP A NEW OR REVISED OSHA STANDARDS
When OSHA is considering whether to develop a new or revised standard, the Agency often publishes a Request or an Advance Notice for Proposed Rulemaking to obtain information and views from interested members of the public. OSHA will also frequently hold stakeholder meetings with interested parties to solicit information and opinions.
If OSHA decides to proceed with issuing a new or revised regulation, it must first publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register and solicit public comment. Interested parties are invited to submit written comments through www.regulations.gov, and OSHA will often hold public hearings in which stakeholders can offer testimony and provide information to assist the Agency in developing a final standard.
After considering all of the information and testimony provided, OSHA develops and issues a final standard that becomes enforceable.
ENFORCEMENT OF OSHA STANDARDS
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 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
- 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 retaliate against a worker for filing a complaint or using other OSHA rights.
The on-site inspection begins with the presentation of the compliance officer’s credentials. The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe: the scope of the inspection process, walkaround procedures, and employee representation and employee interviews.
Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and the representatives will walk through portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to worker injury or illness. After the walkaround, the compliance officer will hold a closing conference with the employer and the employee representative to discuss the findings.
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).
OSHA carries out its enforcement activities through its 10 regional offices and 89 area offices.
SEVERE VIOLATOR ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM (SVEP)
OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) became effective on June 18, 2010. The program focuses OSHA Standards enforcement efforts on employers who wilfully 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.
OSHA’S WHISTLEBLOWER PROGRAM
Protection from Retaliation
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 against any worker for exercising rights under the OSH 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 retaliation means that an employer cannot retaliate by taking “adverse action” against workers, such as:
- Firing or laying off
OSHA is concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, the worker have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which he or she would be exposed to the hazard.
Where possible, the worker must have also sought from his or her employer, and been unable to obtain, a correction of the condition.
An effective safety and health management promotes business efficiency and maintain organization’s good faith. Always be in OSHA’s Good List!