OSHA 101 Primer on Occupational Safety and Health Administration for Workers Comp Professionals

The  Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was a great idea, but then the governmental bureaucrats got involved. While OSHA often gets a bad rap due to the way bureaucrats handle things, the protections for the employees and the principles behind OSHA provide major benefits to all employers. Since the creation of OSHA, the number and severity of workers' compensation injuries has been on a slow but steady decline.
 
OSHA's focus on reducing occupational injuries, occupational illnesses and loss of life has resulted in 40 years of improvements in the safety programs of employers. The OSHA law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions free of known dangers or the dangers are reduced to the maximum extent possible. OSHA sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards while providing assistance and training to employers and workers.
 
OSHA covers all private sector workers in the United States, the District of Columbia and other U.S. jurisdictions. The only exceptions to this are the self- employed and family members of farm employers who do not employ non-family members. Workers who are covered by other federal agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration, Coast Guard and Mine Safety and Health Administration are exempt from OSHA coverage, but OSHA covers most federal employees. State and local government workers are not covered by OSHA if they are in a state with an OSHA approved state program.
 
OSHA's protection of workers is very broad. There are OSHA standards for many things, such as:
 
1.     Exposure to harmful substances like asbestos
2.     Limits on the amount of hazardous chemicals a worker can be exposed to
3.     Indoor air quality
4.     Blood-borne pathogens
5.     Air contaminants
6.     Personal protective equipment
7.     Sanitation
8.     Respiratory protection
9.     Confined spaces
10. Machine guards
11. Training for dangerous jobs
12. Provide protection against falls
13. Preventing trench cave-ins
14. Preventing infectious diseases
15. Guarding floor and wall openings
16. Communication about hazards
17. Industrial trucks
 
These are a few of the many safety standards OSHA has created and required of employers. If there is not a specific standard set for a hazardous condition, there is also the General Duty Clause of the OSHA act requiring employers to keep their workplace free of hazardous conditions.
 
The employer is responsible for finding and correcting safety and health hazards. The employer is also required to:
 
1.     Keep accurate records of work related illnesses and injuries
2.     Inform employees about hazards through training, safety programs, alarms, labels, color coded systems, hazard information sheets, etc.
3.     Post OSHA citations, injury and illness data, and the OSHA poster in areas where employees will see them
4.     Provide hearing test or other medical test required by OSHA
5.     Perform tests on the workplace such as air sampling
6.     Notify OSHA within 8 hours of all work related deaths or of any accident where three of more employees go to a hospital
7.     To not retaliate or discriminate against an employee for filing an OSHA complaint
 
The bad reputation associated with OSHA comes from its ability to make an unannounced inspection on the employer. The OSHA Act gives the workers the right to file a complaint and request OSHA inspections when they believe there is a hazardous condition in their workplace. A worker can tell OSHA not to disclose to the employer who filed the request for the inspection or the complaint. While the intent of the anonymous complaint procedure was to protect the employee from retaliation from the employer, it has led to a lot of abuse by disgruntled workers and labor unions trying to force their negotiation positions on the employers.  
 
When there is a legitimate complaint, the OSHA inspector can issue citations and fines. The citation includes the methods an employer must use to correct the situation and the date by which the corrections must be made. The employer has the right to challenge whether or not there is a violation of safety standards or any other part of the citation. Employees only have the right to challenge the date the corrections must be made.
 
The employee who files a complaint or a request for an OSHA inspection can allow OSHA to disclose who s/he is. If the employer knows who requested the OSHA inspection or filed the complaint, the law specifically states the employer cannot punish, discriminate or retaliate against the employee. The employee cannot be fired, demoted, denied a raise, transferred, or have work hours reduced. 
 
The employer who complies with all the OSHA safety standards has little reason to be concerned about OSHA. If the employer has questions about whether or not they are in compliance with OSHA standards, they can request OSHA to provide safety guidelines and assistance. (workersxzcompxzkit)
 
Utilizing OSHA to improve your safety program is a great way to reduce your cost for workers’ compensation. We can also help you with your safety program through the use of our safety manual. We will glad to assist you in your efforts to create a safer workplace.

Author Rebecca Shafer, J.D
. President, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers’ Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, manufacturing, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. She can be contacted at:  RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.
 
Podcast/Webcast: Occupational Health Strategies
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers' comp issues.

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