In the United States, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the federal agency that has the authority to issue and enforce workplace health and safety standards put in place to protect workers. OSHA was formed in 1971, as a result of the OSH Act being signed into law in 1970. OSHA has standards in place for a wide range of protections. As a business owner, you might wonder “How do I know if am meeting OSHA compliance?”
OSHA Compliance: A Brief Summary
OSHA’s mission statement is: “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance”. Under the OSH Act, employers are required to provide a safe working environment for employees. Employers are required to meet all applicable OSHA standards. Below are a few key employer responsibilities listed by OSHA [note]https://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/employer-responsibility.html[/note]:
- 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.
- Employers must provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
- Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and proper precautions.
- Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Provide to the OSHA compliance officer the names of authorized employee representatives who may be asked to accompany the compliance officer during an inspection.
- 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.
How to Achieve OSHA Compliance?
The above list is not exhaustive of all the responsibilities employers have but gives you a good idea of the breadth of what OSHA requires. Many companies have one or more safety officers whose main focus is making sure the administrative systems, hazard communication, and workplace training requirements are OSHA compliant. Sometimes, professional safety consultants or industrial hygienists are hired to assist companies with compliance requirements such as chemical hazard or noise exposure in the workplace. Safety professionals have the experience to identify what steps your specific company needs to take to keep you in compliance with OSHA, and industrial hygienists are experts in anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness. These steps are always best done proactively, which means BEFORE an OSHA Complaint, or worse, a workplace accident or fatality occurs. When new processes, materials, or procedures are used in the workplace, it is best practice to make sure that as the employer you are meeting the requirements for OSHA compliance.
OSHA has a team of Compliance Officers that are responsible for carrying out inspections of workplaces and assessing penalties for violations that are found. Industries that are particularly hazardous may have routine visits from OSHA officials, while other industries may have an unannounced visit in response to a workplace fatality, worker complaints, or referrals from other agencies, community members, or the newsmedia. During a compliance inspection, the Officer can issue citations and fines for violations or serious hazards that are found. If OSHA forgoes an unannounced visit, OSHA may mail complaints, allowing for the employer to assess and rectify the concerns in the complaint prior to a representative coming out. For employers, one of the last things they want is to have an OSHA officer on-site, as they often can issue fines and citations for ANY deficiency they see, not just the issues which triggered the visit in the first place.
There is no simple way to assure OSHA compliance, it is a multi-faceted term that requires an active approach with ongoing training, hazard identification, and record keeping from company management to avoid potential fines, citations, or injuries in the workplace. If you are a business owner and do not know what steps you should take to comply with the OSHA laws, companies like ours can help.