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OSHA Regulations: Employer Responsibilities

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act covers virtually all employers, except those operating states with plans approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Employers covered by the OSH Act must follow the standards, regulations, and guidelines applicable to their particular industry.

OSHA’s general industry standards and construction industry standards cover mutually applicable standards, such as recordkeeping, accident reporting, the general duty clause, noise exposure, and personal protective device equipment.  Other industry standards are mutually exclusive, such as standards covering AIDS and excavating and trenching.

General duty clause.  Even when no OSHA standard covers a particular situation, employers still have a general duty under the act to provide their employees with a safe and healthy place to work.  OSHA also uses a general duty clause as a temporary enforcement mechanism until it can develop a specific standard covering a particular situation.  For example, OSHA used the general duty clause to cite employers for failing to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention AIDS guidelines for health care workers until it developed an AIDS standard.

The law defines a safety or health hazard as something that “causes or is likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  Although Congress said that the general duty requirement is no more than the duty of every citizen to exercise reasonable care, the act itself does not mention “reasonable care.”

Specific Requirements.  The federal act requires employers to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  • Make certain that the organization’s personnel have in depth knowledge of the OSH Act, its administration, and new developments.  Consider appointing a health and safety specialist.  Keep copies of applicable OSHA standards, and give copies to employees upon request.
  • Have someone or groups within the company analyze OSHA standards to determine their significance to the business’ operations and to make certain the employer remains in compliance.
  • Critically examine existing safety and occupational health conditions at all facilities.  Identify hazards and eliminate or reduce them.  Develop job hazard analyses for all operations.  Use warning signs to warn employees of hazards.
  • Conduct workplace walk-throughs to ensure employees have, use, and maintain proper personal protective equipment and other safety tools and equipment.
  • Establish safe work procedures and work rules, and periodically review them.  Train employees in these procedures and rules, and establish disciplinary procedures for employees who fail to abide by them, thus exposing other employees to danger. 
  • Analyze and strengthen safety and health programs where necessary.  Set specific safety goals for the organization, and regularly measure progress toward these goals. 
  • Cover occupational safety and health in employee publications and annual meetings.
  • Investigate accidents to determine their cause, and change the condition or process to reduce likelihood of repeated accidents.
  • Report to OSHA within 48 hours all accidents causing death of any employee or hospitalization of five or more employees.
  • Document all recordable injuries and illness on OSHA form 301, in addition to your general accident reporting process.  Include information from the form 301 on the form 300 in greater detail.  Post total annual injuries and illnesses from Form 300 in a prominent location each year from February 1 to March 1 using the form 300A Summary Notice.  Allow OSHA or National Institute of Occupational Safety and Heath (NIOSHA) to review records upon demand.
  • Monitor Hazards and keep employee medical records for possible employee exposure to noise and hazardous substances.  Conduct medical examinations as required.
  • Cooperate with OSHA inspectors when they conduct workplace inspections.  Allow them to inspect records, and give them names of employees or employee representative to accompany them on their inspection.  Do not retaliate against employees for exposing hazards to the inspector.
  • Post a copy of the OSHA Act poster, which informs employees of their rights under the act, at a prominent location.  Post citations at the site where the violation occurred to warn employees of the danger.  Also post petitions for modification of abatement and variances. 
  • If contesting an OSHA citation, respond within fifteen days of receiving citation.
  • Abate alleged violations with the specific time period or apply for modification of abatement.

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