What Is OSHA Compliance?

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) compliance means following all OSHA safety regulations, which require employers to provide a healthy and safe workplace for their employees. OSHA is primarily for private sector employers and employees. Employees also have rights to make sure that their environment is healthy and safe.

OSHA was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on December 29, 1970. President Nixon signed OSHA into law to give every man and woman a safe and healthy working environment.

Who Is Covered Under OSHA?

OSHA mostly applies to those employees and workers in the private sector of the United States workforce. This also includes some public sector employees in select U.S. territories and jurisdictions and the 50 states of the contiguous United States. OSHA is enforced using a federal OSHA program or a state-approved OSHA program.

OSHA does not cover:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Family members of farmers
  • Workers who work for agencies that are not regulated by OSHA, like the US Department of Energy

OSHA Regulations

OSHA covers over 7 million workplaces and focuses on what the employer does or does not do. 23 states and territories have their own safety regulations that apply to workplaces in public government and private businesses. Some of these states and others have stricter requirements and stronger penalties than what OSHA covers.

OSHA regulations apply to all employees in the workplace unless that workplace is subject to federal safety and health rules. These regulations are enforced no matter who the person is as long as they work for the organization, unless they are exempted. Besides the employer and employees, OSHA applies to:

  • Stockholders
  • Managers
  • Visitors
  • Family members
  • Partners
  • Supervisors

OSHA Civil and Criminal Violations

It is vital for businesses of all sizes to be trained in OSHA regulations. The consequences of not following OSHA regulations or violating them come with civil penalties of $70,000 for every violation that is found during an inspection. Civil penalties are stated in 29 CFR 1903.15 and assessed at the time of inspection. They are based upon:

  • The seriousness of the suspected violation
  • Business size
  • What the employer has done to correct the problem
  • Prior history of violations

Criminal penalties for violations can lead to jail time. A criminal violation under OSHA consist of:

  • Violations resulting in death
  • Providing untruthful information
  • Killing or assaulting an inspector
  • Holding up or delaying an inspection
  • Giving notice of an inspection before one is given

Recent inspections of 37,000 workplaces by OSHA inspectors revealed 83,000 violations.

Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards

These are the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards in the fiscal year 2016 (October 2015 through September 2016).

  • Duty to have fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
  • Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
  • Scaffolds, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
  • Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134),
  • Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
  • Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
  • Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
    •  Machines, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.212), Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, general industry (29 CFR 1910.305)
  • Electrical systems design, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.303)
  • Duty to have fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
  • Electrical, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.303)

How to Get in Compliance With OSHA

Besides keeping the workplace free from health and safety hazards, OSHA is intended to help prevent improper practices from occurring. Part of OSHA compliance is implementing practice and safety training so individuals in the workplace are aware of and can avoid health and safety hazards themselves. These can lead to injuries, which may result in missed work time, workers’ compensation claims, time off work, and decreased employee morale.

Employees that are required to follow OSHA are required to keep anything out of the workplace that proves hazardous to the health and safety to those listed above in the workplace. Hazards include things like:

  • Toxic fumes
  • Improperly maintained equipment
  • Unsafe working procedures
  • Improper emergency action plans or lack of one
  • Lack of fire exits in the work facility
  • No evacuation plan in place
  • Fire code violations
  • Cluttered floors and walkways
  • Improperly cleaned spills
  • Missing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for hazardous substances

Develop a Hazard Communication Plan

To avoid hazards in the workplace, a comprehensive hazard communication plan should be implemented. Copies of the plan should be distributed to everyone in the workplace. The plan should include how to deal with any issues that may arise and precautions that should be taken. MSDS sheets should also be readily available. The sheets should be kept in a designated spot with instructions on how to find them, read them, and treat any injuries that may have resulted.

Emergency Action Planning Including Fire Safety

Emergency action plans are crucial because they cover many different things that threaten workplace safety. A good emergency action plan includes:

  • Procedures for toxic exposures
  • The location of at least 2 regular exits and their features (more if the workplace is larger)
  • Making sure fire exits are separate from regular exits
  • Composed of fire-resistant materials
  • Fire exit doors are marked appropriately as fire exits
  • Are self-closing
  • Compliant with OSHA and fire regulations
  • Establishing emergency exit routes using the OSHA has an Emergency Exit Routes Fact Sheet
  • How to handle blood-borne pathogens
  • Reporting procedures to the nearest OSHA office

Daily OSHA Compliance Tips

  • Ensure floors and walkways are cleaned of clutter and clean spilled liquids as soon as they happen
  • Keep a well-stock first aid kit filled with supplies for injuries common to the industry
  • Train staff in basic first aid
  • Carefully read any OSHA materials sent and post them in a visible spot
  • Integrate any new OSHA guidelines and procedures into planning and daily compliance procedures

For Those Who Work With or Near Blood:

  • Ensure employees know about first aid procedures and receive blood-borne pathogen training.

OSHA Safety Compliance Resources and Tools

Staying in compliance with OSHA regulations is important. Luckily, there are many resources and tools available to help. They often cover state and federal workplace OSHA safety compliance such as:

  • Guidance documents
  • Sample safety plans
  • Training forms
  • PowerPoint training presentations
  • Safety meeting checklists and outlines
  • Training tracking forms
  • Safety plan building and reporting apps
  • Record keeping solutions

OSHA Inspections

OSHA Inspections occur unannounced and can be done regardless of whether or not a report has been made. However, certain things will increase the chances of OSHA inspectors visiting a workplace. They are:

  • Conditions that may cause imminent danger
  • Calls from an employee or regular citizen
  • Referral from another agency
  • Observation of a violation in plain sight
  • Any incident that includes: death, hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye

If OSHA receives a complaint or referral with allegations of hazards or violations, they will conduct an inspection. These are usually triggered by National Emphasis Programs and Regional and Local Emphasis Programs.

After an inspection has been conducted, OSHA will follow up with the facility in question and do another inspection. This is done to make sure that hazards at a specific company and multiple locations have been addressed and taken care of.

OSHA inspectors make 40,000 inspection visits every year. They result in $35 million in penalties.

Federal OSHA Inspections: By the Numbers

  • 40 to 50 percent of OSHA inspections fall into one of three categories:
    • Hazard-based
    • Equipment-based
    • Industry-based
  • 25 percent of them come from complaints from employees.
  • Another 13 percent are the result of inspections or referrals from inspections like from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is more common in industries such as construction because inspectors can pass by a job site and see something that they believe may be unsafe.

Follow up inspections are commonly done by inspectors who have cited employers in the past.

Approximately 1,800 times per year, deaths, hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye occur. These incidents are either reported by the employer or OSHA becomes aware of what happened through the media or another source.

No OSHA Compliance

In popular media forms like television and film, industrial areas do not ever seem to reflect the safety that is required in the real-world. Narrow catwalks with rope or cables and no handrails over large exposed vats fill the screen. Machinery is left without covers or care. If safety switches are present, they are often difficult to reach for what they control. Other hazardous conditions like very hot furnaces, easily unlocked or open doors, and machinery designed to burn, crush, or cut is left unattended.

In the real world, such places would be shut down by OSHA without a second thought. Yet they still remain because they are interesting and illustrate how businesses have been able to get around safety and environmental regulations in the past prior to comprehensive legislation. These fantastical settings are known as Smoke and Fire Factories due to lack of established purpose and the fact that they only produce smoke and fire.

Even though they are fictional, such settings continue to serve as a reminder of why it is so important to be OSHA compliant. OSHA compliance is not just about construction and design, but also about people in the facility following proper procedures, so the act of having a battle in a workplace is already non-compliance with OSHA, even without the smoke and flame.

OSHA Training Summary

OSHA provides specific guidelines regarding training. Depending on the size of the business, the requirements may be different. For instance, a business with less than ten employees may have its plans communicated verbally. Ten or more employees must have a written plan completed. It has to be kept inside of the workplace and it must be available for employees to review when they need it.

Employees should have training on how to manage hazardous substances and the precautions that need to be taken. This should include access to MSDS' and how to address any emergencies or incidences that come up. General training regarding blood-borne pathogens in an emergent situation should also be provided, but more extensive training is only required in workplaces such as a medical office.

All staff should be well-versed in what to do in emergency situations. Emergency exit building training is an essential part of OSHA training. Every employee should also know how to respond when OSHA inspectors come to the workplace.

OSHA Can Inspect Your Business: Are You Ready?

OSHA inspections are written into OSHA requirements and businesses can be inspected anytime. Inspections may be scheduled or may happen unannounced. So, it could be routine or as a result of a complaint by an employee, a member of the public, or as a recommendation.

No matter what the reason might be, the owner of the business has a right to accompany the inspector or have someone representing the business do so. The inspector will examine every single area of the business and not just a specific area of complaint. The entire facility needs to be in compliance and everyone in the business should be trained to respond to an inspector's inquiry.

Be sure to take lots of photos of any complaint areas, so you can document them, and document any improvements you might make. A process for complaints and for showing work done to make improvements will be required by the inspectors. Include information about inspections in your employee training program too.

Whistleblower Protection and OSHA

The Whistleblower Protection Act requires that employers not take action against employees who file complaints alleging OSHA violations.

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