Navigating the Maze of OSHA Requirements

Human Resources


OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) protects American workers. It mandates that certain safety precautions will be present in the workplace, and management must guarantee that safe work conditions and procedures have a place on the work floor. OSHA can be a slight headache for some companies, but the law is necessary to protect the health and welfare of employees. The rules and regulations may seem like a labyrinth of confusing subsections, but there is a way to negotiate the waters without wrecking the boat.

Understanding OSHA

Employers have the responsibility of maintaining a safe workplace. There are standards which OSHA will enforce, and there are penalties for noncompliance. The General Duty Clause stipulates that serious recognized hazards shall not be allowed in a working area. Any health or safety problem in the workplace must be corrected as soon as possible. This means making changes in the working conditions and not depending solely on protective equipment. The OSHA standards are mandatory and must be in operation on a daily basis.

The criteria OSHA has set is straightforward. An employer under OSHA law must:

  • Inform employees about hazards through training labels and other communication methods;
  • Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses;
  • Perform tests in the workplace;
  • Provide hearing exams or other medical tests OSHA requires;
  • Post any OSHA citations, injury and illness data, and the OSHA poster where employees will see them;
  • Not discriminate or retaliate against employee exercising their rights under OSHA law.

The guidelines are meant to help develop a safer workplace. They are found in the Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, and have the following primary components:

  • Management Commitment and Employee Involvement;
  • Worksite Analysis;
  • Hazard Prevention and Control;
  • Safety and Health Training.

Employers will ignore OSHA at their own risk. This agency is empowered to shut down a factory or place of business if it is deemed unsafe for employment. The OSHA requirements seem to be an almost impossible swamp, but you can escape trouble with a certain amount of care and attention. Here are a few ways to avoid getting into serious difficulty.

Know the Standards. Small business establishments do not always have staff committed to maintaining OSHA standards. Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse, and a small company must be vigilant against any possible OSHA infractions. There are several frequent workplace violations the OSHA inspectors target for special attention:

  • Fall Protection;
  • Hazard Communication;
  • Scaffolding;
  • Respiratory Protection;
  • Electrical Wiring.

Paying close attention to these areas will prevent some major OSHA headaches.

Maintain Accurate OSHA 300 Logs. The OSHA 300 log are the records which OSHA asks for in any inspection. These have to be properly maintained, and the employer has to stay current with any OSHA work place rule revision. A way to maintain good order with the records is to keep the OSHA 300 log and the accompanying 301 form separate from other records not required by OSHA.

Deal Immediately with Any OSHA Violation. Mistakes happen, and sometimes a company does not understand the compliance requisites. OSHA will issue a violation for unsafe conditions and expect the situation to be remedied. It needs to be done immediately because a repeat violation can lead to a willful citation. There are common OSHA violations such as hazard communication, trenching, machine guarding, and electrical hazards. Knowing what the common OSHA violations are helps an employer guard against them.

Understanding the OSHA standards for the industry will help avoid problems. It simply requires going to the OSHA website and using the proper standard industrial classification code to find out what the standards are for the company’s business. OSHA encourages employers to stay current with any regulation changes and has a bi-weekly email newsletter to allow organizations to stay up to date with any new rules.

Take Advantage of the On-Site Consultation Program. OSHA is not playing a game of “gotcha” with anyone. The agency wants employers to be compliant and is willing to help. The on-site consultation program points out to small and medium-sized companies’ any potential hazards and how to improve safety programs. It is a free, voluntary service and is kept confidential. The consultation is not something which is routinely reported to the OSHA inspection staff.

Training, Training, Training. The success or failure of any safety program ultimately rests with the employees. Management has a responsibility of conducting proper training to make sure that OSHA standards are followed. OSHA has voluntary training guidelines which can help any employer provide the appropriate health and say information. This helps minimize the risk of safety problems and helps in meeting OSHA requirements. After all, it is OSHA who is designing these training rules.

Be Familiar with the Complaint Process. OSHA deals with complaints, but inspections are not automatic. An evaluation is made of any complaint to determine if there is a violation of standards. OSHA places the priority in imminent danger, and immediate risk of death or serious physical harm takes top priority. Second on the list are those situations that cause hospitalization of three or more workers, or a fatality. Employee complaints are third on the list, and there has to be a report of an imminent danger or an outright violation.

A history of failure to abate OSHA citations (i.e. within the past three years) sends up a red flag. It is important to respond quickly to any citation. The alleged hazard is described, and there is a follow-up fax or letter. OSHA will use a phone/fax investigation and expects a response within five days of any correspondence. Here is where a company gets in trouble. Failure to respond in writing can trigger an on-site inspection. An employer needs to identify, in writing, problems found and planned corrective action.

Handle All Inspections and Inquiries Professionally. OSHA has better things to do than be annoying. Inspections center primarily on complaints received regarding eminent danger. Management makes things difficult whenever they act as if an OSHA inspection as an inconvenience. Trying to stall an OSHA inspection is an extremely poor strategy. There are some companies that will falsify records or try to mislead the OSHA inspector. It will end in serious consequences, including a felony charge. Management also needs to remember that any whistleblower is not a traitor to the company but helping the company avoid potentially severe safety incidents.

There are safety hazards that a front-line worker can spot immediately which a supervisor might ignore. Any legitimate complaint is an employee’s effort to protect his or her coworkers. Management must view the complaint with that fact in mind. A final warning to any employer who considers OSHA as a pest: it is not your ordinary annoyance at all. It has a lot of venom in its stinger and getting hit with a felony charge is not out of the question. It is bad business to treat OSHA with disrespect.

Implement the Guidelines. Much of the confusion and many of the problems experienced with OSHA are easy to avoid. The Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines will help any company be compliant with the requirements of OSHA. Developing a safety program using those guidelines will keep trouble to a minimum.

Adhering to OSHA requirements does not have to be a painful activity. An employer should understand that safety is more than just keeping the floors clean. Accidents involving physical injury on the job will result in workers compensation and medical claims. It is primarily in the best interest of the company to follow OSHA standards. As OSHA points out on its website, whatever is done to improve safety and prevent accidents is going to be helpful to any financial bottom line.

It is a smart idea for management to take advantage of any services OSHA provides. OSHA reaches out to employers to offer help, and questions will get the right answers. Compliance assistance is readily available. Voluntary on-site consultations and voluntary training guidelines will both make compliance easy. Either shows a good faith effort on the part of employers to maintain a safe workplace. Using the services also will help educate a company on OSHA, making decision-makers more aware of what needs to be present in the workplace to guarantee overall safety.

It is also essential to understand the overall benefit of OSHA standards and guidelines. Manufacturers are using safer chemicals thanks to this legislation and using proper ventilation systems to keep the air free of toxic fumes. Employers will grumble about government interference in business, but OSHA is more than a paper processor. Its mandate to protect workers in the workplace has made American industry much safer. We often read of problems that occur overseas with employees injured on the job. It does happen in the United States, but it is nowhere near as frequent as some other countries. The end result is not just a safer work environment but a better business and more productive employees.

The primary reason is the OSHA standards. Being familiar with OSHA requirements and establishing a good safety program is a sensible business practice. Employers who care about their workers want to be sure that the work environment is safe and conducive to productivity. Being mindful of OSHA standards and requirements will guarantee that everyone goes to work and leaves at the end of the shift, safe and sound.