OSHA 101

By Bridget Miller

While OSHA is practically a household word, not everyone knows how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is administered or what powers it has. Let’s take a look.

What is OSHA?

OSHA is in place to create and enforce workplace health and safety standards and to protect employees by regulating a safe working environment. The goal is to minimize workplace illness and injuries. This is achieved by putting health and safety standards in place and taking steps to ensure compliance. It is also achieved by training and outreach programs and through various educational and employer assistance initiatives.

OSHA is part of the Department of Labor (DOL) and is administered by its own assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health (who, in turn, reports to the secretary of labor within the president’s cabinet). The assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health as of January 2016 is David Michaels, who has held the position since December 2009.

OSHA was originally created as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It applies to virtually all organizations with at least one employee. There are also state-level OSHA regulations that employers must comply with.

As a result of OSHA’s implementation, workplace injuries and illnesses—along with the related absences, costs, and personal repercussions that go with these issues— have all decreased substantially.

OSHA Provisions

OSHA has volumes of detailed regulations. Generally speaking, however, OSHA regulations require employers to provide a workplace free from safety and health hazards, and to provide the proper equipment, tools, and procedures to ensure worker safety.

While the full text of all OSHA regulations is far outside the scope of one article, here are some examples outlining the types of issues OSHA deals with:

  • Emergency action plans. Emergency action plans are required of employers, including training workers on how to handle fires or other emergencies.
  • Additional training. Other employee training may also be required, such as training on hazardous substances and training on bloodborne pathogen safety.
  • PPE. Any personal protective equipment (PPE) required to perform the job must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee.
  • HAZMAT. Disposing of hazardous materials must be done properly.
  • Hazardous chemical safety. OSHA regulations cover the use of hazardous substances in the workplace and how employers must keep employees safe, including use of safety data sheets (SDSs).
  • Continual review of working environment. Employers may be required to test for hazards (such as air quality and noise levels) on a consistent basis.
  • IIPP. Employers are encouraged to create formal illness and injury prevention programs.
  • Health monitoring. Monitoring employee health may be required when applicable, such as testing for hearing loss.
  • Inspections. OSHA regularly conducts both scheduled and unscheduled workplace inspections. Inspections may also be the result of a complaint.
  • Bloodborne pathogen safety. Employers must provide protection and information about the risk of bloodborne pathogens when applicable.
  • Reporting. Accident, injury, and fatality reporting is mandated as well. Regulations vary depending on what item is being reported.
  • Protection from retaliation. No retaliation can be taken against workers who exercise their OSHA rights.
  • OSHA poster display. Workplaces must have the OSHA poster displayed in an area where employees will see it. The OSHA poster outlines employee rights.
  • Detailed safety guidelines. In addition to all of the above, OSHA, of course, provides in-depth safety regulations for specific industries.

Bear in mind, this is a list of examples—it’s not a fully comprehensive list of all OSHA regulations! Some topics noted here may not apply to all employers. Additionally, some OSHA regulations are guidelines rather than mandatory compliance requirements. This list lets you see the broad scope of OSHA regulations.

What Does OSHA Do to Help Employers?

Despite the fear that is sometimes associated with the idea of an OSHA safety audit, OSHA actually has a lot of benefits available for employers looking to ensure their workplace remains as safe as possible. They have information about workplace hazards, and they also offer free workplace assessments for employers. On their website, there’s a wealth of free information available to assist employers in understanding the regulations. There’s also information to assist in training employees, including eTools for industry and hazard info. In short, OSHA’s online and offline assistance can be very beneficial to any employer that opts to take advantage.

*This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.

About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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