Risk & Safety

OSHA Questions and Answers

Ella Baker
OSHA Questions & Answers
Reading time 9 Mins
Published on Jan 13

With more than 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020, the work of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration remains as important as ever for American workers. Learn more about the agency tasked with keeping your employees safe.

What is OSHA?

The federal agency known as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets national standards to ensure the safety and health of America’s workers, with input gathered from public hearings that allow employers and employees the opportunity to weigh in on potential standards. OSHA was created by Congress in 1970 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

OSHA’s mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. Since the agency was created in 1971, occupational deaths have been cut by 61% and injuries have declined by 74%. In addition to setting workplace safety standards, OSHA also makes sure that these are followed by conducting enforcement activities, including onsite inspections.

What are my responsibilities as an employer under OSHA?

Employers are required to provide their employees with a safe workplace, free of serious hazards that follows all OSHA safety and health standards. In addition to finding and correcting safety and health problems, OSHA also requires employers to make efforts to eliminate or reduce hazards by making reasonable concessions and changes to achieve safer working conditions. Effective ways to achieve these safer conditions include switching to less toxic chemicals, utilizing enclosing processes to prevent the release of harmful fumes, or installing ventilation systems to clean the air in workspaces.

Most businesses with 11 or more employees at any time during the calendar year must maintain records of occupational injuries and illnesses as they occur. In select industries, including retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, and service industries, such recordkeeping is not required of the employer.

Additional employer requirements include:

  • Prominently display the official OSHA Job Safety and Health – It’s the Law poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.
  • Inform workers about chemical hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets and other methods.
  • Provide safety training to workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSHA standards.
  • Provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
  • Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards.
  • Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them.
  • Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.
  • Not retaliate or discriminate against workers for using their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness.

What types of inspection and enforcement activities does OSHA conduct?

When OSHA finds employers who fail to meet the safety and health responsibilities set forth, the agency initiates inspection and enforcement activities. Inspections are conducted without advance notice, using on-site or telephone and facsimile investigations and performed by highly trained compliance officers. The inspections are scheduled based on the following priorities: imminent danger; catastrophes including fatalities or hospitalizations; worker complaints and referrals; targeted inspections of companies or industries that potentially post particular hazards and/or high injury rates; and follow-up inspections.

OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) focuses enforcement efforts on employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards. The SVEP establishes procedures and enforcement actions for these violators, including mandatory follow-up inspections of workplaces found in violation of OSHA standards.

What are the most commonly violated OSHA guidelines?

As the government agency tasked with ensuring worker safety and healthy work environments, OSHA provides training, outreach, education and assistance to employees and businesses alike. The goal of these programs is to create knowledge of and prevent safety and health hazards in your business. Each year, OSHA issues a list of the most commonly violated guidelines. Below is a list of the five violations for 2018.

  1. Fall protection
    Falls are one of the most common causes of serious work-related injuries. OSHA standards require that fall protection (such as guards, toe boards, handrails, and harnesses) to prevent falling from overhead platforms and elevated work stations when working at heights of more than four feet in general industry workplaces, and at six feet in construction.
    In most workplaces, fall protection will mean more common slip and trip prevention. Violations include improper use of mats or signs when spillages occur or rain is tracked inside; as well as damaged, warped, or uneven flooring.
  2. Hazard communication
    Chemicals pose a wide variety of health and physical hazards, and not just in manufacturing and construction. In general industry workplaces, hazardous chemicals could include cleaning chemicals and some chemicals commonly used in printing, and these should be treated with the same precaution as industrial hazards.
    OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and protective measures are distributed appropriately. This means putting up appropriate signage, making sure chemicals are stored correctly in properly labeled containers, and training staff on their appropriate use.
  3. Respiratory protection
    In industrial workplaces, respirators protect workers from insufficient oxygen and harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases vapors, and sprays, and providing necessary respirators could avert hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses every year.
    However, ensuring that everyday work environments have access to safe, clean air is also imperative. Indoor air quality is of the utmost importance, and violations could include overly humid environments, poor ventilation, mold from water damage, and exposure to other chemicals (including asbestos).
  4. Scaffolding
    Most scaffold-related injuries result from either the planking or support giving way, slipping, or being struck by a falling object. OSHA’s standards to prevent this happening include height restrictions, weight limits, fittings, restraints, and supports. Workplaces in all industries undergo construction, so if there’s scaffolding, proper care needs to be taken to ensure OSHA guidelines are met.
  5. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)
    Workers servicing or maintaining machines or equipment may be seriously injured or killed by uncontrolled hazardous energy sources, such as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, chemical, thermal and others. Common injuries include electrocution, burns, crushing, cutting, lacerations, amputations or fractures. The greatest group with the greatest risk of injury belong to the craft worker, electrician, and machine operation industries.

What injuries and illnesses am I required to report to OSHA?

OSHA requires that any work-related fatality is reported to them within eight hours. All work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye should be reported within 24 hours. This can be done by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), by calling into your nearest OSHA office during normal business hours, or reporting it online.

What are the reporting and posting guidelines for OSHA?

Tracking and investigating workplace injuries and illnesses play an important role in preventing future injuries and illnesses, and for that reason, OSHA requires certain covered employers in high-hazard industries to prepare and maintain records of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. Employers with more than ten employees and whose establishments are not classified as a partially exempt industry must record serious work-related injuries and illnesses.

Employers who are required to keep Form 300, the Injury and Illness log, must also post Form 300A, the Summary of Work Related Injuries and Illnesses, in the workplace every year from February 1 to April 30. Employers and workers need accurate, timely information to focus their prevention activities, and OSHA uses this information for many purposes, including inspection targeting, performance measurement, standards development and resource allocation. Injury and illness data also aid employers and workers in identifying possible safety and health hazards at the employer’s place of business. OSHA encourages employers to conduct their own internal reviews and investigations to recognize patterns of injury or accidents and to take steps to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

Additionally, employers with 250 or more employees that are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records and employers with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain industries, must electronically submit their Form 300A Summary data to OSHA by March 2nd of each year.

All employers must post the federal or a state OSHA poster to provide their employees with information on their safety and health rights.

What are the rights of workers under OSHA?

Much of the caseload for inspections and enforcement activities of OSHA are derived from worker complaints. If they believe that a serious hazard exists or that the employer is not providing a safe work environment, current employees may file a written complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace. At the request of the employee, these inspections may be conducted by OSHA without revealing the name of the employee filing the complaint. It is a violation of the OSH Act for employees to be retaliated against by an employer for filing a complaint or otherwise using their OSHA rights.

Other workers’ right under OSHA include:

  • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be done in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
  • Receive copies of records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
  • Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in their workplace.
  • Receive copies of their workplace medical records.
  • Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
  • File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
  • File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a “whistleblower” under the 21 additional federal laws for which OSHA has jurisdiction.

What’s the penalty for violating an OSHA standard?

Below are the penalty amounts adjusted for inflation as of January 15, 2021:

Type of Violation Penalty
Other than serious
Posting requirements
$13,653 per violation
Failure to abate $13,653 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $136,532 per violation

OSHA penalties are no small matter. With “serious”, “other-than-serious” and “positing requirements” fines topping out at $13,653 per violation and the maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations topping out at a whopping $136,532, ensuring that your business stays compliant with OSHA standards is vitally important. Your partners at Sheakley will make sure you and your company are prepared when OSHA comes knocking at your door.

Sheakley can give you guidance to stay OSHA compliant.

Sheakley provides regular updates on OSHA requirements and policy changes. Additionally, our safety team can help evaluate your safety policies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of your employees and business.

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