8. What is the “Occupational Safety and Health Act”?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed to regulate safety conditions for employees in the work places of private employers with 20 or more employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency charged with overseeing OSHA compliance. The agency develops rules and regulations concerning workplace safety, inspects business premises, fields and investigates complaints of hazardous conditions, and may take administrative and judicial actions for failure to comply.
• Note: Certain types of industries are exempt from regulation under OSHA due to regulation under other federal statutes. OSHA also allows for state programs that regulate industries pursuant to OSHA guidelines, which may also cover state or public employees. The state guidelines may be stricter and place additional requirements on the business beyond the OSHA guidelines.
The primary employer requirements under OSHA are as follows:
• Safe Work Environment – Employers must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
• Notification – Employers must inform employees of certain potential dangers of the workplace to which they are exposed.
• Right to Complain – Employees may report or file a complaint with OSHA regarding any non-compliance with OSHA provisions.
• Retaliation – Employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising their rights or protections under OSHA.
Employees may file an OSHA complaint against the employer. Complaints alleging an imminent danger in the workplace are likely to result in an OSHA inspection. If there are issues of retaliation for filing an OSHA complaint, employees must file a retaliation complaint within 30 days of the violation. In the event of any OSHA violations, the OSHA inspector may refer the matter to the Department of Labor to investigate and potentially file suit against the employer. Employees cannot bring an action directly against the employer under OSHA.
• Discussion: Why do you think the Federal Government passed health and safety regulations for private company workers? Do you think these regulations are necessary? Why or why not? Do you believe the employee protections are sufficient? Why or why not? Should an employee be able to bring a private OSHA compliance action? Why or why not?
• Practice Question: ABC Corp manufactures steel. The manufacturing facility contains smelters that are very hot to the touch and large machines with moving parts. What are the potential OSHA compliance issues ABC Corp may encounter?