OSHA: Workplace Safety in a Nutshell

On a scale of one to wood-chipper, how safe is your workplace?  It seems silly, but employers often overlook workplace safety because they feel that their work is not “dangerous”. Continue on to find out how to help maintain workplace safety for your business — in a nutshell.

In June 2017, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rolled out its newest program called “Safe + Sound Week,” which creates a more cooperative approach to workplace safety regulations.  So here it is, OSHA back in the employment law spotlight.

Workplace Safety Regulations

Workplace safety is regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (also called “OSHA”).  OSHA aims to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” What comes to mind when you hear “workplace safety”? — perhaps a steel mill or a coal mining operation?  However, even the stereotypical office job (a.k.a. cubicle life) is subject to OSHA.

OSHA develops and regulates workplace safety standards that are applicable to every workplace.  Because of this, two duty standards apply to all employers: general and specific. The general duty mandates that employers provide a work environment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”  The specific duty refers to an employer’s compliance with the adopted safety standards of OSHA that lay out specific situations, hazards, and behaviors that are deemed unsafe.

Enforcement

Not only does OSHA make the rules, it also sends out the compliance officers to audit the businesses. 

  • The Audit Process:
    • First, the compliance officer records any violations of safety standards by a business;
    • Next, the director of the area in which the violating business is a part will decide whether or not to issue a citation for the violation(s) and what penalties apply; and
    • Finally, the director sets the date of abatement (a.k.a the deadline to fix whatever safety standards problems were present).
  • Factors in Determining Penalties:
    • The good faith of the business in trying to be compliant;
    • The severity of the violation (non-serious, serious, willful, failure to abate);
    • The business’s prior history of compliance; and
    • The size of the employer.  

Best Practices

As part of OSHA’s “Safe + Sound Week” initiative, there are three core elements to a successful program for employers to implement:

  1. Management that commits to establishing, maintaining, and continually attempting to improve the program and policies of the employer;
  2. Employees who help identify solutions and areas of program improvement (in fact, OSHA allows employees to report unsafe conditions at their workplace with the employee’s name redacted to avoid adverse conditions with the employment relationship); and
  3. “A systematic ‘find and fix’ approach that calls upon employers and workers alike to examine their workplaces — proactively and routinely — to identify and address hazards before an injury or illness occurs.”

 

The biggest takeaway from OSHA’s reemergence into the scene is that workplace safety is incredibly important, regardless of the employer’s size, industry, and/or current policies.  So take a look at your business’s current approach and speak with your lawyer to make sure you are compliant!

By:  Zachary Avina  –  07/28/17

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