The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 for promoting a safe workplace by setting standards and conducting inspections. The Act applies to almost all employers. Employers are responsible for knowing and following applicable standards set by OSHA and for complying with the general duty clause of the Act to provide a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to…employees.”
OSHA has set standards in four categories of business:
- General industry;
- Maritime; and
Within each of these categories, standards are set for particular activities or types of equipment. For example, standards for general industry include topics such as exit routes and machine handling and standards for maritime include topics such as gangways and hatches.
Three categories of standards apply across all industries:
- Access to medical and exposure records;
- Personal protective equipment; and
- Hazard communication.
Regarding records, standards provide that employers must give their employees access to employer-maintained medical records and records of exposure to substances that are considered toxic.
Personal protective equipment standards set forth equipment that must be provided without cost to employees to guard their health and safety while working. Such equipment varies according to industry and occupation and includes items such as helmets, respirators, and sight and hearing protectors.
The hazard communication standard requires evaluation by manufacturers and importers of any potential hazards of their products and notification to employers (who in turn are responsible for training employees) as to such hazards through a material safety data sheet, commonly referred to as an MSDS.
In addition to setting standards, OSHA also issues regulations concerning record keeping, reporting, and posting. Most employers with more than ten employees in businesses not considered low-hazard (such as office or retail work) are required to maintain an injury and illness log and individual incident reports. All employers subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, including those with ten or fewer employees, must report within eight hours to OSHA concerning any accident that results in an employee fatality or hospitalization of three or more employees.