The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Department of Labor and encouraged employers and employees to reduce workplace hazards and to implement safety and health programs.
In carrying out its duties, OSHA is responsible for promulgating legally enforceable standards. OSHA standards may require conditions, or the adoption or use of one or more practices, means, methods or processes reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job. OSHA standards run the gamut from step ladders to computer workstations.
Where OSHA has not promulgated specific standards, employers are responsible for following OSHAs general duty clause. The general duty clause of the Act states that each employer “shall furnish a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
The Act does not provide for a private right of action. Rather, the Secretary of Labor has the exclusive right to bring an action for a violation of the Act.
OSHA is authorized under the Act to conduct workplace inspections. Absent special circumstances, inspections are conducted without advance notice.
In general, coverage of the Act extends to all employers and their employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other territories under Federal Government jurisdiction. Coverage is provided either directly by federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program.
As defined by the Act, an employer is any “person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States or any State or political subdivision of a State.”
The following are not covered under the Act:
* Self-employed persons;
* Farms at which only immediate members of the farm employer’s family are employed; and
* Working conditions regulated by other federal agencies under other federal laws.
Citations and Penalities
After a compliance officer reports findings, the area director determines what citations, if any will be issued, and what penalties, if any, will be proposed. Violations include “Other Than Serious Violation,” “Serious Violation,” “Willful Violation,” “Repeat Violation,” and “Failure to Correct Prior Violation.” Monetary penalties can be imposed for each separation violation.
OSHA Ergonomics Guidelines
According to OSHA “Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population.” In particular, OSHA is concerned with the risk factors that may lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
OSHA has developed several, voluntary industry-specific guidelines, that address specific ergonomics-related risk factors in those industries. Employers in industires with no guidelines are still required to ensure that similar risks are abatted through OSHAs general duty clause.