OSHA

Chris Ruddy
Chris Ruddy
As a new HR professional you might see the word OSHA a lot in the news. You might hear myths about how OSHA will “shut down” businesses and cause headaches for HR. This article will help you learn about OSHA and dispel its myths, enable you to be compliant with OSHA standards and provide your employees with a safe, happy workplace.

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What Is the Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA)?

The Occupational and Health Administration is an agency of the Department of Labor that is tasked with enforcing the Occupational and Health Act of 1970, which was passed to ensure that all workplaces are safe for employees. To do this, OSHA establishes and enforces safety standards for different industries and conducts research on improving those standards as needed.

History of OSHA

During the 1960s, the United States saw a significant increase in occupational and job-related injuries. Reports at the time indicated that disabling job injuries went up by 20% and that nearly 14,000 workers died on the job each year, which was a staggering revelation.

With the support of Congress and President Nixon, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was signed into law and established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as we know it today.

What started out as a public outcry against workplace injuries and deaths has led to an organization which has been protecting the safety of workers in the U.S. for more than 50 years.

Why HR Needs to Understand OSHA

While the responsibility of maintaining OSHA compliance may differ from organization to organization, HR is usually on the forefront of OSHA-related tasks (especially in HR departments of one) for the following reasons:

  • Record Keeping. Because record keeping fills a large portion of HR’s time, and OSHA requires fairly extensive record keeping, it is very common for HR to be heavily involved in OSHA tasks.
  • Training. For many organizations, HR is the main training facilitator. Because OSHA safety standards often include properly distributing training to employees, this fits well under the umbrella of HR tasks.
  • Reporting. OSHA requires frequent and involved reporting, especially in wake of workplace incidents. HR often assumes responsibility over OSHA administration because of its reporting prowess.
  • An Advocate for Employees. HR is the advocate for employees in an organization and a big part of OSHA is ensuring that employees know their rights to working in only the safest work environments.

What Does OSHA Do?

While OSHA’s reach has expanded and changed through the years, these are some of its main responsibilities:

Establishing Safety Standards

A main duty of OSHA is to establish clear and thorough standards or rules by which employers must adhere to ensure a safe workplace for their employees. These standards can be industry-specific, like in construction and shipyard industries, and sometimes they are more broad, like in the General Duty Clause (Section 5, OSHA), which simply promises a safe workspace to all employees.

OSHA conducts continued research on workplace safety to update its rules and standards, especially in wake of new workplace hazards, such as natural disasters and pandemics.

Providing Safety Resources

In addition to providing the standards, OSHA also offers safety resources, training and courses to employers to assist them with compliance. This makes it easier for organizations (and HR departments) to create safety protocols for their employees.

Enforcing Safety Standards

Along with all of the standards and resources that it offers, OSHA also has an enforcement division to ensure that employers meet those standards. OSHA’s enforcement activities include, but are not limited to inspections, re-inspections, issuing fines and requesting court orders to pause business productions.

While HR is required to report workplace incidents, employees are encouraged to report safety violations to OSHA and request inspections as needed. Upon receiving tips from employees, inspectors may make an unannounced visit to address the violation, resulting in potential re-inspections and fines if the issue is not resolved.

Who Is Protected By OSHA?

OSHA’s main objective is to protect most employees of most employers in the U.S., with the exception of self-employed workers, immediate family members of farm workers and workers whose workplace hazards are regulated by another federal agency. For covered employees, here are some of their specific protections:

The right to speak up

Employees have the right to speak up and report safety violations to OSHA without fear of being discriminated against by the organization. Employees may also request that an OSHA inspection be conducted at their workplace.

The right to receive safety training

Employees have the right to receive safety training related to their job in a language that they understand.

The right to be protected

Employees have the right to a safe work environment, with safe equipment, protection from hazardous chemicals and noise, to walk and work on safe floors and to have clearly-marked exits.

The right to review records of work-related injuries

Employees have the right to view records of previous work-related injuries at the company, as well as the right to view the results of tests taken to find workplace hazards.

How To Make Sure You Stay Compliant With OSHA Regulations

Make sure you are compliant with OSHA regulations by doing the following:

Learn OSHA standards

Familiarize yourself not only with standards applicable to your industry, but with the standards applicable to other industries as well. You can find a comprehensive list of standards on OSHA’s website. Also, make sure you familiarize yourself with any state-specific OSHA guidelines governing your state.

Record any Work-related Injury or Illness

Should you learn about a work-related injury or illness, make sure that you create a detailed record of the incident. Keep a detailed log of these incidents for reporting purposes. Most people use OSHA Form 300 as a log.

OSHA Reports

If any workplace injuries or incidents occur during the year, make sure to keep a record of those and to file an OSHA Form 300A at the end of each calendar year. This form has to be certified by a company executive and posted for OSHA. See OSHA’s website for more information on where and how to file this report.

Help Facilitate Training and Safety Measures

As it pertains to your position in the organization, you may find yourself assisting managers with creating compliant safety measures and facilitating training for your employees.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About OSHA

Can OSHA shut down a business?
The short answer: no. An OSHA inspector cannot shut down your business. However, they can request a mandate from a federal court which can shut down your business.
What is an OSHA physical exam?
While there is little to be found about an “OSHA physical exam,” OSHA may conduct physical inspections of your workplace as requested or needed. These may be surprise inspections, so make sure you’re prepared with the right safety standards!
Chris Ruddy
Chris Ruddy

Chris is an HR entrepreneur. Having worked with small businesses and start-ups throughout his career, Chris is passionate about pioneering HR departments in companies where they don’t currently exist. He currently works at Skill Struck, a local Utah tech company and is striving to be an expert in all things related to small business HR departments.

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