Workplace injuries are an unfortunate reality—well over a million injuries occur each year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To minimize the incidence of workplace injury due to dangerous working conditions, the federal government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The OSH Act requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The Act also created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards.
Key Employer Responsibilities Under OSHA
OSHA regulations protect employees and employers alike from the injuries, lost wages and productivity and, ultimately, the potential litigation surrounding unsafe work conditions. OSHA has outlined a set of employer responsibilities, which dictates that employers must:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act.
- Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards.
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and properly maintain this equipment.
- Use color codes, posters, labels or signs to warn employees of potential hazards.
- Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.
- Provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
- For employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace, develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and proper precautions (a copy of safety data sheets also must be readily available).
- Provide medical examinations and training when required by OSHA standards.
- Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster (or the state-plan equivalent) informing employees of their rights and responsibilities.
- Report to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours any fatal accident or one that results in the hospitalization of three or more employees.
- Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses (employers with 10 or fewer employees and employers in certain low-hazard industries are exempt from this requirement).
- Provide employees, former employees and their representatives access to the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300), and post the summary of the OSHA log of injuries and illnesses (OSHA Form 300A) on February 1, and for three months.
- Provide access to employee medical records and exposure records to employees or their authorized representatives.
- Provide to the OSHA compliance officer the names of authorized employee representatives who may be asked to accompany the compliance officer during an inspection.
- Not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the Act.
- Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved. Each citation must remain posted until the violation has been corrected, or for three working days, whichever is longer. Post abatement verification documents or tags.
- Correct cited violations by the deadline set in the OSHA citation and submit required abatement verification documentation.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
OSHA encourages all employers to adopt an Injury and Illness Prevention Program. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, known by a variety of names, are universal interventions that can substantially reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and alleviate the associated financial burdens on U.S. workplaces. Many states have requirements or voluntary guidelines for workplace Injury and Illness Prevention Programs.
Most successful Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are based on a common set of key elements. These include:
- Management leadership,
- Worker participation,
- Hazard identification,
- Hazard prevention and control,
- Education and training, and
- Program evaluation and improvement.
OSHA's Injury and Illness Prevention Programs page contains more information, including examples of programs and systems that have reduced workplace injuries and illnesses.
And don't forget to download our free Federal Labor Laws by Company Size Chart, which gives you an easy-to-understand breakdown of important workplace laws (like the OSH Act) that may affect your company.
Image Credit: USACE HQ