Understanding OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) came into existence with a
stroke of the pen by President Richard Nixon in April of 1970. Recently, the controversial
agency celebrated 30 years in the never-ending battle to prevent workplace injuries.
OSHA is responsible for the enforcement of the Federal guidelines that mandate safe

OSHA derives it’s authority from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The
Act created the agency itself which provided the groundwork for every workplace
standard that now exist. The OSHA Act does not have standards. Congress recognized
that it did not have the technical ability to legislate the diverse field of workplace safety.
For that reason Congress created OSHA and gave them the authority to establish and
enforce occupational safety and health standards. The act contains significant
procedural requirements that require a series of complex activities before a standard
becomes a law. OSHA was born in an atmosphere where it was clear that workplace
safety needed federal intervention and oversight.

However, pro- business legislators did not want to OSHA have cart blanche in rule making without OSHA going through the
same procedural process as other Federal Agencies. In the early years, OSHA could only
adopt National Consensus Standards which is a standard adopted and promulgated by
nationally recognized standards-producing organization, such as the American National
Standards Institute (ANSI). This was for a two year period and did not require public
input for the enforcement of the national standards. After the two year period, OSHA had
the authority to establish new standards or modify existing only with public participation.
OSHA, by law, has to have a period of time in the standard making process for notice and
comment. This is designed to ensure that all affected parties have a say in the process.

The process is a follows:

1. OSHA writes a standard to govern some existing hazard or process.
2. OSHA publishes the standard with all scientific data relevant to it.
3. OSHA reviews all comments to evaluate the merit and impact.
4. Standard issued as FINAL Standard and is law on a future effect date.

The General Duty Clause of the OSHA Act provides a catch all provision where OSHA
can site employers for safety violations where a standard does not exist, yet a safety
hazard does. The General Duty Clause, Section 5 (a) (1) states that: Employers must
furnish to each employee a workplace which is free of all recognized hazards that are
causing or are likely to cause death or physical harm.

OSHA has the authority to issue citations to employers for violation of the OSHA
standards in the following categories based on the potential to cause injuries:

• Imminent Danger- any condition or practice that such continued activity could
reasonably be expected to cause death or serious injury. Example, OSHA witnesses a
worker “walking” an iron beam 30 feet in the air.

• Serious – where there is a substantial probability of death or serious injury could
result if the condition is not corrected. Example, a machine does not have a guard on it.

• Non-Serious- a condition that has a direct relationship to job safety and health but
probably would not case serious injury nor death. Example, an employer did not call
OSHA within 8 hours of a fatality.

• De-Minimis- a condition that while a hazard does not have an immediate or direct
relationship to safety or health.
To further categorize the violation, OSHA has the two special classes that indicate the
conduct of the employer with regards to the hazardous condition.

• Willful violation – exist where evidence shows that the employer committed an
intentional and knowing violation of the OSHA standards and was aware of the
hazardous condition in the workplace.

• Repeated Violation- is where a second citation is issued for a violation of a given
standard or the same condition was not previously corrected.

The Top 10 OSHA Violations are: (changes every year)

1. Failure to post the OSHA Poster
2. Failure to maintain Log of Injuries
3. Guarding violations
4. Grounding violations
5. General Duty Clause
6. Hazard Communication program not in place
7. PPE program not in place
8. Respiratory program not in place
9. Hearing Conservation program not in place
10. Fall Prevention program not in place

The OSHA Poster is required to be posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace at
each location of the employer. OSHA requires employers to keep records of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses on
OSHA Form 300 as of January 1, 2002. The OSHA 300 Summary Log is designed to be
posted, with just the worksite injury information showing, each February 1 and stay
posted until April 30. OSHA logs must be retained for 5 years.

Another form is required to be on file, the OSHA 301; however, your state work comp
Notice of Injury form can meet this need as the information is captured there. In these
days of phoning in claims, faxing claims and e-mailing claims make sure that copies are
kept in the appropriate file to satisfy the OSHA requirements.

Some employers are exempt from record keeping such as:

• employers with less than 10 employees,
• religious institutions and
• low hazard industries such as banks.
OSHA must be notified in the following injures:
• death of an employee – within 8 hours.
• injuries to 5 or more employees as a result if one incident
OSHA targets the following employers for inspection:
• High Hazard Industries, such as construction
• Fatality
• Employee complaints of hazardous conditions (20% of visits in 2004)
• Injuries to 5 or more employees form a single incident
• Programmed (targeted) industries due to high frequency rates of injuries

If OSHA sends you a letter or fax:

OSHA handles many of the complaints it receives by what they call phone and fax. They
will call the employer to explain they have received a complaint and they have a duty to
follow-up on it. Then they fax a letter of understanding to the employer for reply.

If this occurs:

1) Don’t panic- this may be a simple fix and OSHA has not decided to visit–yet.
2) Review the OSHA standard in question, investigate your company’s level of
compliance, and make changes if needed.
3) Draft a reply letter within 3 days of the OSHA letter to you and respond
4) State the facts, do not list excuses, do not ask if OSHA will visit, just state and
reiterate your compliance with the standard in question
5) Close letter by stating your commitment to safety in the workplace

If OSHA shows up at your business:

OSHA Compliance Officer will ask to see the person in charge. If no person is available
the inspection can still go forward.

• OSHA officer conducts an Opening Conference to inform the employer of the reason
for the inspection.

• OSHA will review safety programs, worksite of operations and interview employees
to establish the level of safety training at the worksite.

• Closing Conference to discuss OSHA violations, if any, and employer rights.

• Follow-up- OSHA returns to validate corrections have been made.

The employer does have the right to require the OSHA Compliance Officer to obtain a
warrant however, that is not advisable as one can be readily obtained and may set the
stage for confrontation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), which is an
independent federal agency that decides points of contention with citations and penalties
issued in the American workplace by OSHA.

OSHA suggests a seven point safety program:

1. Management Leadership
2. Assignment of Responsibility
3. Hazard Recognition and Control
4. Employee and Supervisor Training
5. Recordkeeping of injuries and illnesses
6. First Aid and Medical Assistance
7. Employee Awareness and Participation