Workplace Safety

Workplace Safety came to the forefront in 1970 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed to cover the safety and health of employees in the United States and all its territories.

Common Workplace Safety Hazards

The National Safety Council travels to workplaces across the country and even the entire world and do audits of safety conditions and equipment. Seven common hazards found in violation of the standards required.  

  • Falls: Most of these common hazards have to do with falls from a height to a lower level.  These sorts of incidents accounted for almost 15% of all the fatalities in the workplace in 2014.  Scaffolding and other lift equipment are also often cited.  Employers may not know that they are required to ensure there are fall protections, or equipment may not be used properly or in some instances may not be hooked up to a safe system.  Private employers need to identify protection needs, equipment needs and training needs for their employees.  In addition, auditing and fall protections programs are required. Some workplaces may be able to forgo the use of personal fall protection and build platforms instead with railings and a fixed ladder. 
  • Clean-Up: Cleaning is another issue that can cause safety to be compromised.  Employees should be trained on tidying up as they work so that they don’t wait for clean-up crews to provide a safe environment.  Spills and certain clutter may require special clean up protocols, these things should immediately be reported to a supervisor who can dispatch appropriate staff.
  • Storage:  Clearance of items being stored must be considered where circuits and circuit breakers are concerned. Appropriate areas must be made available for the storage of items.
  • Electrical: Having appropriate clearance for electrical breakers are just one of the many hazards associated with electrical issues.  Extension cords are also a frequent problem. Manufacturing floors, distribution centers, and warehouses are all changing their layouts regularly.  The employer and their supervisor team must keep safety at the top of mind with each one of these changes in regard to extension cord use.  These extension cords are trip hazards, be worn down by forklift traffic, create hazardous shocks, they can overdraw from circuits and cause heat and start fires.  The right extension cord for the job is frequently just temporary, has the right guage, and is rated for the right wattage.
  • Forklift: Many workplaces have requirements that employees work efficiently.  This can lead to workers feel like they are under a certain amount of pressure, which can lead to shortcuts and that means a lack of safety. Bumping into racks, other forklifts, walls, product, or in a worst-case scenario, another worker. Maintenance of this equipment may also be an issue.
  • Proper lockout/tagout:   There are three reasons that these important procedures fail.  A rush to complete the job, being untrained on how to safely use the equipment and complacency.
  • Chemicals: Chemicals are a unique safety issue because it is constantly degrading or changing. Chemicals require a control system, which keeps organization in the know about when and why the chemicals were ordered. Inventories are required with use by dates, expiration dates, and how to dispose of it properly.  Also proper storage must be planned, trained and executed.  Also plans in case of a spill, fire or other disaster.

Regulations are the reason that audits are conducted where inspectors examine conditions about which complaints have been filed, and determine what changes are needed. OSHA requirements are explained more fully here.

Safety Programs Create Productive Works Environments

Generally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 covers all of the U.S. and its territories.  The federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or by an approved job safety and health plan in the state. Postal employees in the United States are also covered by this act.

The Act states describes an employer as someone who is engaged in a business concerning commerce who employs members of the community.  Therefore, this act covers employees and employers in all fields including but not limited to private education, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, organized labor, long shoring, charity, law, medicine, and disaster relief.  The federal government’s employees along with local governments and state governments (who have OSHA-approved plans) have a separate program. The act also does not cover the following:  Persons who are Self-employed; Family Operated Farms whose employees are all immediate members of the family; Areas and conditions that are governed by other federal agencies or laws which regulate worker safety and Employees of local and state governments

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 at a Glance

Generally, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 covers all of the U.S. and its territories.  The federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or by an approved job safety and health plan in the state. Postal employees in the United States are also covered by this act.

The Act states describes an employer as someone who is engaged in a business concerning commerce who employs members of the community.  Therefore, this act covers employees and employers in all fields including but not limited to private education, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, organized labor, long shoring, charity, law, medicine, and disaster relief.  The federal government’s employees along with local governments and state governments (who have OSHA-approved plans) have a separate program. The act also does not cover the following:  Persons who are Self-employed; Family Operated Farms whose employees are all immediate members of the family; Areas and conditions that are governed by other federal agencies or laws which regulate worker safety and Employees of local and state governments. Putting all of this into your handbook is a good idea, for more ideas for your handbook go here.

Basic Provisions/Requirements  

  • The act requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to do two things: conduct inspections ensuring healthful and safe workplaces and set standards.  You can see more about OSHA requirements here.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards may necessitate that employers implement certain processes, means, practices, or methods appropriate to protect employees at work.
  • Employers must become acquainted with the standards in their establishments and always eliminate dangers.
  • Training on the use of personal safety equipment is required for employers to fall into compliance with standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • Standards require that employees must comply with all rules and regulations that apply to their own actions and conduct or face disciplinary action in the workplace.
  • Even where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is silent on a danger, the employers complying with the Act's clause of "general duty".
  • The general duty clause states that each employer provides employees with a hazard free work place.
  • States must set standards that meet the requirement of being at least as effective as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration federal standard.

Occupational Safety and Health Act -Approved State Plans

Employers are not allowed to suggest, request or require that an employee or potential employee to take any kind of polygraph (or lie detector) examination.  In addition, an employer is not allowed to inquire about the results, use, refer to, or accept the results of the test.  This means that an employer cannot promote, threaten, discipline, discriminate against, discharge, deny employment or threaten any of those actions against a potential employee or a current employee.

Workplace Exposure to Health and Safety Hazards    

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes hazardous material handling very seriously.  Importers and manufacturers of dangerous materials are required to conduct evaluations of the hazards they manufacture and import. The first shipment of the hazardous materials to a brand-new client requires that the importer or the manufacturer must indicate on the containers themselves that it is a hazardous material.  Employers are required to use the date on the containers to train employees to avoid the dangers presented by the hazardous material. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations cover such items as posting, recordkeeping, and reporting. For more on moving your legal work away from your outside counsel go here.

Due to the stifling nature of retaliation on employees who may not want to come forward and disclose what they know during investigations if they think it will cost them something, the EEOC has cracked down on this phenomenon. Retaliation can vary from unlawful discharge (for example a Human Resources professional who is performing EEO functions, terminated for it) to assorted other adverse actions.  If proven, these charges can result in both compensatory and punitive damages against the employer. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance takes an assertive stance against retaliation, using a broad interpretation of this frequently complained type of discrimination.

Retaliation charges have eclipsed race discrimination since 2009.  Now the most common basis for a filing of discrimination charge is retaliation. Nearly 43% of all private-sector complaints filed in 2014 involved retaliation claims.  That is 2 times as many as 1998, which was when the EEOC last issued retaliation guidance.

Within 45 days of the discriminatory (alleged) action a federal job applicant or employee must file a complaint of discrimination based on color, race, sex, national origin, age, religion, or mental or physical disability to an EEO counselor with the applicants’ or employees’ agency. The applicant or employee may file a formal complaint within 15 days of getting notice of the right to file a complaint if that complaint cannot be solved informally.

Under 1967’s Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a complaint against federal agencies or departments are required to be filed with the director of equal employment opportunity, head of that agency, head of an EEOC field office, or other official (designated by the agency). This requirement may be skipped by federal employees if they notify the EEOC within 180 days of the discrimination, and then wait 30 days before filing a suit.

Data on the employment status of members of minority groups and women are published by the EEOC. The EEOC collects information through 6 employment surveys.  The surveys cover apprenticeship programs, private employers, state and local governments, labor unions, secondary and elementary schools, and Colleges and Universities. The agency then tabulates data on employees' racial, ethnic, and gender statistics.  The product is then distributed to federal agencies who, in turn, make it available to the community.

Due to the stifling nature of retaliation on employees who may not want to come forward and disclose what they know during investigations if they think it will cost them something, the EEOC has cracked down on this phenomenon. Retaliation can vary from unlawful discharge (for example a Human Resources professional who is performing EEO functions, terminated for it) to assorted other adverse actions. 

Authority of Secretary of Labor      

The Secretary of Labor is must print, and distribute notice of the Act's safeties, to provide rules and regs to protect the conditions of the Act. Every employer shall maintain and post notice in obvious spots on its grounds where notices are usually posted.  For more information about the Secretary of Labor go here.

The Secretary shall:

  • Issue regulations as necessary or appropriate to enforce this Act
  • Coordinate with local, regional, local, State, and other agencies, furnish specific assistance to private employers, employment agencies, and  labor organizations, effectuating the purposes of this Act
  • Make investigations and inquiries and require the keeping of documentation necessary or appropriate for the administration of this Act.

Protected opposition examples include complaining about discrimination against others or themselves, counseling an employer on EEO compliance, such as Human Resources reporting violations to leadership, or threatening to complain, reporting evidence in an employer’s internal inquiry of an EEO matter, repelling sexual advances or interceding on behalf of others, declining to comply with an order “reasonably” understood to be It’s important that an employer has a handbook that reflects this.           

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