The Role of Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the Workplace
Workplace safety is paramount for companies. Yet, especially in industries with higher death rates, including construction, transportation, warehousing, agriculture, forestry, and hunting. Most accidents result from human error. To protect employees, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act of 1970) requires organizations to pursue workplace safety – the physical protection of people from injury and illness while on their duties. Employers must satisfy all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards, maintain injury and death records caused by workplace accidents, and submit on-site inspections whenever there is a notice. Failure to adhere to these obligations can result in penalties in the form of fines.
OSHA is a division within the Department of Labor, charged with overseeing the OSH Act. Its mandate includes assuring safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards and providing training and assistance.
OSHA inspections are done based on the following issues:
- Imminent danger: These are situations that could cause death or serious physical injuries.
- Catastrophes: All work-related fatalities must be reported within 8 hours and in-patient hospitalizations, losses of an eye or amputations within 24 hours.
- Worker complaints and referrals: This entails the allegations of hazards or violations that could be considered high priority.
- Targeted inspections: These are aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces with high injuries and illnesses.
- Follow-up inspections
Process for Reporting Violations to OSHA
Report the problem to the employer
The first step is usually notifying the employer of the issue. If the employer is aware of the hazard, they might try to rectify the problems. If they do so, it is reasonable to let go of the complaint. If they don’t take corrective action, it is necessary to take other measures to pressure them to correct it.
Take detailed notes on the safety problem identified
When reporting a violation to the agency, it is vital to have as many details as possible on the problem. Thus, it is essential to take specific notes on the safety problem, including what it involves. If possible, it is necessary to determine who is aware of the problem, when the problem got reported, and potential risks to the entire workforce.
Report the safety problem to OSHA through phone, FAX, or in-person
After identifying the problem, notifying the employer, and taking the necessary notes, the next step is to report the problem in person at a local OSGA office. It is also possible to use the agency’s toll-free phone number.
File a complaint with OSHA online
It might be easier for some people to report a violation online through the agency’s website. The form can be completed anonymously but may require stating the current position at the organization, that is, whether former employee or current employee.
General Duty Clause Employers Have to Follow to Keep their Employees Free From Hazards
The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 focuses on creating means to address hazards that may not be standardized on the books, such as heat-related illnesses.
General Duty Clause is issued if OSHA can prove the following:
- The employer could not keep the workplace free of hazards.
- The hazard was reasonably recognized.
- It was resulting to or was likely to result in death or serious physical harm.
- A feasible way of correcting the identified hazard was available.
The two obligations of the OSHA on employers are:
- The employer shall furnish a worksite free of recognized hazards that may contribute to death or serious physical harm to employees.
- The employer shall adhere to occupational safety and health standards and rules and regulations applicable to their actions and conduct.
Occupational Hazards and Occupational Injuries
Occupational hazards are risks of accidents or diseases in the workplace. It could be unpleasant that an employee experiences or suffers from as a result of doing their job. Types of occupational hazards include biological hazards, chemical hazards, physical hazards, and psychosocial hazards. OSHA entitles workers to a safe workplace, offering protections of rights (described in the next section of this handout).
Occupational injuries include personal injury, disease, or death caused by an occupational accident. OSHA requires employers with ten or more employees to prepare and maintain records of occupational injuries and fatalities.
Employer and Employee Rights as outlined in the OSH Act
- OSHA inspections should be conducted reasonably.
- The employer is entitled to know the reason for inspection visits.
- The employer may accompany inspectors when on site.
- The employer may contest OSHA citations.
- The employer has the right to know the names of employees interviewed in an inspection.
- The employer has the right to take notes on what is inspected and any discrepancies.
- Working conditions are free from unwanted hazards.
- The employee has the right to receipt of information and training on workplace hazards.
- The employee has the right to file a complaint about hazardous working conditions and request inspection.
- The employee has the right to anonymity when filing a complaint.
- The employee is entitled to use their rights without fear of retaliation or discrimination.
- The employee may object to the time frame for the correction of discrepancies.
OSHA Violations, Including Citation and Penalties
- Up to $12,934 fine.
Up to 95% of the serious penalty.
- Lesser minimal-only violations: Warning
- Greater minimal-only infractions: from $1,000 – $13,653.
Willful or Repeated
- Up to $129,336 Penalty.
- Up to $13,653 per violation.
Failure to Abate
- Up to $12,934 while the violation continues to exist.
OSHA Safety Data Sheets (SDS
All employers must maintain information at each worksite, describing any chemical hazards that may be present on site. All employers with hazardous materials at their workplaces should have a communication program. Safety data sheets (SDSs) are documents that provide information on hazards and their features.
The OSHA-required format for SDS is as follows:
- Section 1: Identification. This section includes the distributor’s name, address, phone number, recommended use, and restrictions on use.
- Section 2: Hazard(s) identification. This section includes the hazards regarding the chemical and the labeling requirements.
- Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients.
- Section 4: First-aid measures. It details vital symptoms/effects, acute, delayed, and the needed treatment.
- Section 5: Fire-fighting measures.
- Section 6: Accidental release measures.
- Section 7: Handling and storage.
- Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection.
- Section 9: Physical and chemical properties.
- Section 10: Stability and reactivity.
- Section 11: Toxicological information.
- Section 12: Ecological information.
- Section 13: Disposal considerations.
- Section 14: Transport information.
- Section 15: Regulatory information.
- Section 16: Other information. This section may include the date of preparation or last revision.
OSHA, EEOC, and DOL Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic, Vaccines, and Return to Work
- OSHA emphasizes that vaccination is the most effective way to protect against severe illness or death from COVID-19. It encourages employers to provide paid time off to employees for the time it takes to get vaccinated and recover from the side effects of the disease.
- Educate and train workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures.
- Employers should work with public health authorities to ensure employees get vaccinated.
- OSHA suggests that employers consider having policies that encourage employees to get tested and get a vaccine if unvaccinated.
- Instruct workers who have tested positive for the disease, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone that tested positive, and all workers showing symptoms of the disease to stay home until at least 14 days.
- EEOC confirmed that Federal EEO laws do not prevent employers from making vaccination an obligation on their workers as long as they comply with reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII.
- EEOC established that employers need to provide employees and their families with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness on the benefits of vaccination.
- Since the outbreak of COVID-19, EEOC has maintained a technical assistance questions and answers page to update users from time to time. EEOC approved employers asking employees whether they require reasonable accommodations when they return to work to avoid the high influx of such requests.
- EEOC established that employers might make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical exams consistent with business necessity to maximize workplace safety.
- Unemployment insurance relief during COVID-19 outbreak: Expanded the ability of states to provide unemployment insurance for workers impacted by the pandemic.
- It has been updating the various ways employers can reduce workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19: Developing infectious disease preparedness and response plan, preparing to implement basic infection prevention measures, developing policies to identify and isolate infected workers, provide workplace flexibility and protections.
- In September 2021, President Joe Biden announced that employers with a hundred or more workers could make vaccination an obligation or test employees weekly.