OSHA laws are designed for the sole purpose of keeping workers safe and healthy on the job. OSHA is an acronym for Occupational Safety and Health Act, and it covers every aspect of workplace safety and health in the private sector. It also supersedes almost all state requirements for worker safety. The only exceptions are state laws that are even more stringent than OSHA requirements.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, or OSHAct, was put into place to protect workers from serious harm or death at work. This law requires all employers to provide workers with conditions that are relatively safe and free from known risks. The act created OSHA, the administration responsible for enforcing rules to this effect, as well as providing assistance, training, and information to employers and employees alike.

The majority of employees in the United States fall under the jurisdiction of both the act and the administration. It covers all U.S. private sector employees and those in other U.S. jurisdictions. Any state-run programs are required to be at least as effective as the federal program.

Pennsylvania OSHA

Pennsylvania doesn't have a separate state law regarding occupational safety, which means that federal laws are the governing standard for all private sector employment in the state. It has, however, adopted its own OSH rules regarding public sector jobs such as schools, state and municipal agencies. These rules, however, are far less comprehensive than federal ones, and in many cases, haven't been updated since the 60s.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor's Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety administers these public-sector rules. Employers who maintain formal written Accident and Illness Prevention Programs are eligible for a 5 percent insurance premium discount every year. There is free and confidential assistance regarding safety and health programs for private companies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's PA/OSHA Consultation Program.

Who Isn't Covered

The only employees not covered by OSHA are public employees — those who work for state and local governments, but if the state has an OSHA-approved program, these employees are covered by OSHAct protections. There are four states that fall under this umbrella: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. The Virgin Islands are also in this category.

All federal agencies are required to carry health and safety programs which meet private employer standards. One exception to government agencies not being covered by OSHA is the USPS — the post office is covered under OSHA regulations.

OSHA Standards

OSHA standards set rules for employers to minimize the risk of hazards in the workplace. They cover such sectors as construction, maritime and general industry works. They limit hazardous chemicals in the workplace, require safety equipment and practices, and require the monitoring of all hazards as well as tracking workplace accidents, illnesses, and injuries. Employers are also required under the act's General Duty Clause, to keep the workplace free from serious and known hazards. In brief, employers are responsible for maintaining a safe place of work.

Any health risks that exist must be identified and corrected. This requires changing workplace conditions as well as using personal protective equipment. Employers should use safer chemicals, isolate harmful fumes, and improve ventilation, among other issues. For example, dental professionals are at risk for hazards from things like pathogens, drugs, ergonomic injuries, noise, workplace violence, and more. Steps should be taken to reduce and eliminate these risks where possible.

Federal vs. State

Again, OSHA laws supersede all state laws, but states have the option of filing their own plans, as long as they are at least as stringent (if not more so) than Federal OSHA regulations. If a state plan is approved by the Secretary of Labor, it becomes the legislating principle of all workplace safety. Such laws cover every worker, including family members, officers, stockholders, partners, supervisors, management, and other staff in addition to regular day-to-day employees.

If a person can walk through a workplace and spot something that's unsafe, that condition or practice must be eliminated. In addition, all employees must be properly supervised and trained, and proper safety equipment must be used and provided as needed.

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