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What You Need to Know About OSHA

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal government agency that enforces the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The law and the agency are often referred to as "OSHA" interchangeably, although they do differ. The act's purpose is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for employees by authorizing the agency to develop and enforce safety standards, and to provide research and education on workplace safety.


Most private employers are covered under the OSH Act. State and local governments and self-employed workers are usually covered under state plans, and certain industries may be regulated by another federal agency, such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Federal government workers are covered by the act and are monitored by OSHA, but are not subject to fines for noncompliance.


OSHA encourages states to adopt their own plan that is at least as effective as the federal requirements in keeping workers safe. These plans often cover private-sector employees and state and local government workers, though some only protect government workers. Currently, 28 states operate an OSHA-approved plan.


Section 5 of the OSH Act is known as the "general duty clause," which broadly states that employers must provide a safe workplace and that employees must adhere to the standards and safety rules. This clause is often invoked when no specific standard or other safety regulation applies directly to a workplace hazard.


OSH Act regulations are commonly referred to as "standards." They are published in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations and are divided into separate standards for general industry, construction and maritime.

OSHA uses the North American Industry Classification System for industry identification.


OSHA does not govern workers' compensation, but the agency does require some reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses from covered employers.

  • Recordkeeping—In most industries, employers that have more than 10 employees and that are not on the excepted industry list must maintain a log of recordable workplace injuries and illnesses. This annual log, called the OSHA Form 300, is completed for each "establishment" and must be retained for five years. Additionally, employers must complete an Injury and Illness Incident Report (OSHA Form 301) within seven days of being notified of a recordable workplace injury. State plans or individual workers' compensation insurance providers often have their own acceptable substitute form to use. All of these are commonly referred to as a "first report of injury" form and must be retained for five years.
  • Posting—Every year, from Feb. 1 through April 30, covered employers must post at the workplace a summary of the injury and illness log from the year prior. This is OSHA Form 300A, and it must also be retained for five years.
  • Reporting—All employers must report to OSHA any worker fatality within eight hours, and any amputation, loss of an eye or hospitalization of a worker within 24 hours.

    Employers with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and employers with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain industries must electronically submit their Form 300A Summary data to OSHA.
    Effective Jan. 1, 2024, employers with 100 or more employees must electronically submit data from Forms 300 and 301 each year if the establishment is classified in an industry identified by OSHA as having elevated injury and illness rates.


The hazard communication standards ensure that employees know about and understand the dangers associated with chemicals in the workplace. Labels, safety data sheets and training are required.


While the OSH Act does not set forth specific training requirements, more than 100 of the standards developed by OSHA do contain training requirements. OSHA has developed training guidelines to help employers comply with these requirements.


OSHA enforces the whistleblower protection clauses of many statutes, including the OSH Act, the Affordable Care Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to name a few.


There are five types of OSHA violations with monetary penalties. De minimis violations are those that have no direct or immediate relationship to safety and health, and require no penalty or abatement.


With hundreds of OSHA standards, it can be difficult to understand what an individual employer's requirements are.


These programs reward employees for a reduction in work injuries but may also discourage employees from reporting when they get hurt. Care must be taken when designing such programs to remain compliant.


Employers should be prepared for an OSHA inspection that may be triggered by an employee complaint, a targeted enforcement program or workplace fatality, to name a few.



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