A stitch in time saves nine.
But compliance to OSHA standards could save countless.
Workplaces and workplace environments can be somewhat hazardous, sometimes even fatal.
OSHA, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is the regulatory agency of the United States Department of Labor that works towards ensuring safe and healthy workplaces in the U.S.
It strives to achieve this by enforcing robust OSHA compliance in all the organizations and workplaces to which OSHA guidelines apply.
Issuing standards, imparting training, educating stakeholders, and providing assistance are some of the ways through which OSHA regulates and mandates workplace safety.
Here we put together a summarized yet comprehensive, handy guide to OSHA compliance that covers most private sector workplaces. We answer the Who, the What, and the How of OSHA Compliance.
OSHA Compliance: Who is covered, and who’s not?
The OSHA mandate covers any private organization or workplace that employs workers under the guidelines.
This covers all the 50 states in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands.
This compliance can either be through OSHA directly or state-run health and safety programs equally effective as the OSHA mandate.
Compliance with the federal OSHA or the applicable state-run programs is mandatory for all those covered. Therefore, the first step for any employer would be to check whether the company must meet OSHA regulations.
OSHA exempts self-employed persons and immediate family members of farm employers.
It also does not cover those workers whose workplace hazards fall under other federal statutes such as Mining Companies (which falls under Mine Safety and Health Administration), aviation industry (comes under Federal Aviation Administration), and more.
However, OSHA has a Memorandum of Understanding with most of these other federal agencies.
How does OSHA protect workers?
- It Educates – By conducting relatable and comprehensive workplace safety training sessions for the workers, OSHA sensitizes all workers regarding workplace safety – the precautions and measures they should take.
- It Empowers – OSHA guidelines provide workers across the U.S. with an authority that protects their rights and entitles them to a safe and healthy workplace. In addition, making OSHA mandatory to the applicable employers ensures that the workers have a regulatory guardian above them, which they can turn to in times of need.
- It Encourages – Through OSHA, workers are encouraged to prioritize self-protection. By providing a confidential platform to report an unsafe workplace, an injury or illness caused due to unhealthy work conditions, or request an OSHA compliance inspection; workers are encouraged to come forward without fear of retaliation.
What is expected from the employers?
It is a legitimate question to ask as an employer in the US.
All employers covered under the OSHA are expected to follow their workplace guidelines and the specified rules and regulations.
Here, one must note that being OSHA compliant isn’t a burden in the form of additional rules, costs, and due diligence hassles.
In fact, by ensuring OSHA compliance, the organization can save money in worker compensation, workplace accident insurance premiums, legal liabilities, among others. It also preserves the reputation and goodwill of the company.
It ensures that the workers — the organization’s backbone — have a safe and healthy workplace wherein they feel comfortable working.
The critical employer responsibilities as per the OSHA guidelines are as follows:
1. Identifying and Fixing Health Hazards:
The employer must review all the processes, machinery, and materials used at the workplace; and assess whether any factors result in a hazardous work environment. Then, these hazards have to be either replaced by safer options or eliminated.
2. Compliance with OSHA standards:
OSHA has directed the minimum implementable essential health and safety measures by organizations in detailed OSHA standards. In addition, OSHA provides generic means, as well as industry-specific standards for employers to comply with. E.g., There are specific additional standards for the construction industry, the agriculture sector, and the maritime industry.
3. Making sure employees have proper PPE gear and equipment:
Employers should identify processes with safety concerns attached to them and provide appropriate PPE to the employees working on them. In addition, the OSHA guidelines mandate employers to organize PPE training sessions for the workers, inspect their consistent use, and conduct regular reviews to ensure their condition is preserved and replace damaged or worn-out PPE.
OSHA has created a comprehensive PPE guide to act as a reference for employers.
4. Following Workplace norms:
These include posting OSHA posters and OSHA citations at prominent and requisite locations in the workplace. Using appropriate color codes, signs, and labels (to identify and warn employees of high-risk areas, keeping records of workplace-related injuries and illnesses).
5. Training the Employees:
Employers must provide all the necessary and applicable process training to their employees. Employees should also be briefed regarding the risks associated with their work and the importance of complying with the safety guidelines. This training should be imparted in a format and language which is easily understandable to the workers.
6. In case of an Inspection:
In the event of an inspection, employers must cooperate with the OSHA compliance officer and provide them with the necessary details and access to medical records of the employees if required. In addition, the employers are mandated under the ‘Whistleblower’s Protection’ and not to discriminate against the employees who have reported their organizations.
How are the OSHA guidelines implemented?
Abiding by the OSHA guidelines is mandatory for applicants, and the governing body must ensure that they are implemented through workplace inspections.
These Inspections are performed by compliance safety and health inspectors, who are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety specialists.
As a standard practice, OSHA will not advertise inspections ahead of time, but employers have the ability to ask compliance inspectors to identify themselves and/or obtain a warrant before an inspection.
So what can trigger OSHA inspection?
Any of the following catalysts can trigger these inspections:
- Predicting a dangerous situation
- Report of a severe illness or injury
- Worker complaints
- Referrals by the third party
- Planned inspections of high-risk organizations
- Follow-up inspections
The Compliance Officer can conduct the inspections either by sending a telephonic intimation or by an in-person visit.
What if your organization is not OSHA Compliant?
As mentioned earlier, non-compliance with the OSHA guidelines can endanger the employees’ lives at your organization and result in OSHA levying substantial fines. Your organization ends up with a bad reputation, and you face the risk of losing your employee support.
So, How should you go about it?
Now that you have understood all the essential facets of the OSHA guidelines, you can also comprehend the criticality of compliance.
Yes, there is much compliance, and it can be cumbersome to implement– but it has to be done, and it has to be done right.
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