OSHA and Its Administration
Occupational Safety and Health Regulations (OSHA) are an agency within the larger U.S Department of Labor (DoL). The U.S Congress created OSHA under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). On December 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) into law, thereby establishing OSHA (Azaroff et al. 2002). This law was primarily formulated to assure safety standards and healthful conditions for the working class of men and women by setting and enforcing standards. As well, this law established frameworks through which it provides outreach, training, compliance assistance, and education. In the years preceding 1970, national laws on safety and health hazards were pretty much nonexistent.
Events that Influenced the Formulation of OSHA
- i) ShirtWaist Company Fire
As mentioned earlier, before 1970 there were barely any laws related to occupational safety. The 1911 Shirtwaist Company fire in New York was one of the most horrendous industrial disasters of the early 1900’s and which resulted in the death of 146 of its 500 employees. The deaths mainly affected the female workforce which was larger and comprised mostly of immigrants. These needless deaths were caused by negligence and poor management as the factory had no fire escapes and all the doors had been locked at the time of the fire (Calavita, 1983). The public outrage evoked by this incident led to the clamor for safety and health reform.
- ii) Industrial Production for World War I and II
The U.S was the leading manufacturer of artillery during both world wars. This led to increased industrial activity in a bid to satiate growing demand for weapons. The industries involved in war goods production experienced some safety and health crises forcing the government to create a Working Condition Service aimed at reducing hazards and inspecting plants.
The OSHA law was primarily created to offer safety and health assurances for working men and women by setting standards for operation and enforcing them. OSHA was also created to (or “intending to”) providing education and assistance to workers, their employers among others. To this end, the Federal Government in conduction with state governments works hand in hand with a workforce of more than 100 million and eight million employers (Castillo et al. 1994). To further enhance its mission, OSHA does some things such as developing job safety and health standards and carrying out site inspections to enforce these standards. OSHA also provides training programs aimed at bettering and increasing knowledge on occupational health and safety. OSHA works with each of the 50 states to help them improve workplace safety and enhance health standards as well. Most of these are accomplished through the use of State plans which are OSHA approved. These individual states Safety and Job Health Programs are designed to offer a response to workplace accidents and complaints and conduct surprise inspections just as the federal OSHA does.
Importance of OSHA
Since its formation, OSHA has had a considerable impact on Workplace Health and Safety, but a lot more work still needs to be done. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and OSHA 2013 and 2012, About 4,405 workplace deaths occurred in 2013 an estimate of about 3.2 per 100,000 full-time workers. This figure translates to roughly 12 deaths every day, and this is an alarming figure (Friend & Kohn, 2014). Regarding demographics, in 2013 797 Latino and Hispanic workers succumbed to job inflicted injuries in the year 2013. Regarding injuries, nearly 3M serious workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by the Private Industry sector in 2012. One of the main reasons in which OSHA’s importance is magnified is that it has equipped workers with knowledge of their rights and made employers increasingly aware of their responsibilities When employers are aware of their responsibilities towards providing health and safety in the workplace, there is fewer work-related deaths and injuries.
Types of OSHA Inspections
Imminent Danger: This is the condition in which there is a high degree of certainty that imminent danger exists and that is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm in a short period or before enforcement can neutralize the harm.
Worker Referrals/Complaints: Worker complaints are just the complaints filed by workers about the existence of a health hazard within the workplace. Referrals are those received from a government or other regulatory body (McGarity & Shapiro, 1993).
Targeted Inspections: Programmed inspections of industries are enabled by Special Emphasis Programs (SEPs), in industries that have a high accident and illness incurrence rate. These SEPs can be modeled around Regional Emphasis Programs (REPs), Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) and National Emphasis Programs (NEPs).
Follow Up Inspections – These types of inspections are carried out by OSHA primarily to find out if previously cited violations have been rectified and overall work safety and health standards improved.
Citations and Penalties
Citations inform the worker and employer of any proposed penalties, proposed length of time set for abatement of hazards, and the regulations and standards that the employer may have violated.
Violations and Penalties
A wilful violation that is knowingly and intentionally committed by the employer in total disregard and indifference to the law attracts a penalty of 70,000$ or 3,000$ depending on what may be proposed by OSHA. Serious Violations are those that may have resulted in death or grave bodily harm and which the employer was knowledgeable of attracting a mandatory penalty of serious violations that could exceed $ 7000 (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2014). Repeated Violation is violations that OSHA deems similar to previous violations and in which regard OSHA may propose a penalty of $70,000. Other that serious violations are violations that can be related to safety and health but which would likely produce minimal harm and which attract penalties up to $70,000 for each other than serious harm violation.
Workers Rights about OSHA
Right to a Safe and Healthful Workplace
Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act states that ”Each employer shall furnish to their employee’s employment and a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause or are causing death and serious physical harm to its employees.
This section provides for the removal of hazards or provision of protective equipment to reduce the harm likely to be caused (OSHA, 2016). For instance, Respirators should be provided in factories and mines as should earplugs for employees working in an environment replete with noise pollution. Further, examples are given of a safe workplace are those that include: the guarding of machines with movable and rotating parts and training and fall protection guards when employees are working in distances that involve heights. Other examples include inspection of trenches and ensuring they are fitted with protective systems, control of noise levels, enhancement of space entry procedures and protection from chemical hazards.
Right to Knowledge on Hazardous Chemicals
Another key right provided for by the OSHA is the right of employees to be informed and made knowledgeable about hazardous substances in the workplace. This law instructs employers to provide written hazard communication programs that include information on among other things:
- i) Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) ii) Container Labelling
iii) Worker Training This training should be done on the physical and health hazards posed by the chemicals and what workers can do to protect themselves. Information on what procedures the employer has taken to protect workers should also be included (Stellman, 1998).
How OSHA can be Implemented in the Workplace
Employers are charged with the main responsibility of ensuring that they provide a safe and healthful working environment. In this regard, there are numbers of ways through which employers can ensure that OSHA is fully implemented.
- Providing a Workplace Free from Recognized Hazards and Comply with OSHA Standards.
Employers can facilitate this process by ensuring that safety and health issues are prioritized within their workplaces. Employers can make sure this is done by:
- Maintaining conditions and adopting practices necessary to protect workers on the job. This is best done by ensuring that the danger posed by hazards as well as hazards are dealt with at the source. A good example is to emulate the example set by engineering controls as this deals with the hazard and not the worker exposed to the hazard.
- Employers need to have a comprehensive understanding of the health and safety standards in their workplaces, and they need to comply with these standards. A good understanding is essential as it will demonstrate to workers that their safety and health are of importance to their employer, and this will inspire co-operation from the employees towards ensuring the success of OSHA.
- Providing Training Required by OSHA
As mentioned earlier, employees have a right to receive training on the health and safety standards as well as be informed of the existence of hazardous chemical materials in their workplaces. OSHA further demands that employers train workers on the various safety and health aspects of their jobs (Woolhandler et al. 2003). OSHA also expects employers to be selective in the issuance of jobs and limit some high-risk jobs to certified competent and qualified personnel. This essentially means that those jobs be reserved for employees that have had previous training whether it was within the workplace or outside of it. This is because training greatly deteriorates the chances of employees falling into harm’s way due to inexperience and or poor skills.
- Keeping Records of Injuries and Illnesses
It is important for employers to document the incurrence of injuries and illnesses that are job caused because this will provide key pointers on to hoe effective or ineffective their health and safety standards are. Records keeping about job acquired injuries and illnesses can be done through:
Provision of an annual Summary – This summary will include all illnesses and injuries acquired by workers on the job no matter how major or minor. This is important for comparative history purposes as it will show how safe and healthful the work environment is, and how consistent the company has been/is in maintaining this health and safety standards. Any incidents that result in workplace fatalities should be reported to the relevant authorities within a period not exceeding 8 hours. In this regard, any job-related hospitalizations occasioned by illness or injury should also be reported. Record keeping is important as it provides reference material with which OSHA regulatory bodies can carry out inspections and workplace surveys with. Records also show a company’s commitment to privacy. Through record keeping, OSHA is also able to compile a list of high-risk industries enabling it to inform workers of potential hazards and illnesses that could befall employees in these industries and how they can protect themselves. Workplaces are also required to enable OSHA to access their records no matter how damning as failure to do so would be breaking the law.
- Enabling Medical Examination by OSHA
In industries that involve constant exposure to dangerous chemicals and other hazardous materials, employers may be required to carry out medical examinations that involve employees. For instance, paint manufacturing industries may expose the workers to high amounts of lead just like household and industrial chemical manufacturing companies could expose their workers to other dangerous substances. Workers in such a companies have a right to information, and their exposure and medical records should be availed to them whenever requested.
- No Discrimination/ Victimization of Workers who Invoke and Exercise Rights
Employers are warned against discriminating or discharging any workers that claim the rights afforded to them by the Osh Act. This is provided for in Section 11(C) of the Act. Discrimination, in this case, may encompass a wide variety of issues such as pay cuts, demoting, firing, and laying off, denial of benefits such as overtime and leave, reduction in working hours among other things. Employees who perceive to have been discriminated against are required to contact OSHA.
- Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
OSHA mandates employers to provide PPE to reduce the exposure of employees to hazardous materials especially when administrative, and engineering controls are not able to provide protection because that are not feasible or effective enough to do so (Friend & Kohn, 2014). Employers are also required by OSHA to pay most of the required PPE and avoid burdening the employee by passing on the cost to them. Some of the PPE that OSHA mandates employers to pay for include: Hard Hat, Welding PPE, Hearing Protection, Goggles and Face Shields, PPE related to fire fighting i.e., gloves, helmets, boots, Prescription Eyewear, Rubber Boots with steel toes and metatarsal foot protection.
In conclusion, OSHA has been instrumental in enhancing safety and health standards within the workplace environment. It has enabled employers to realize that they have the mandate to provide not just opportunity, but to ensure that the environment is safe and healthful. It has also equipped workers with knowledge on their rights ensuring their safety and health and also provided frameworks that offer remedial action if these is violated.
Azaroff, L. S., Levenstein, C., & Wegman, D. H. (2002). Occupational injury and illness
surveillance: conceptual filters explain underreporting. American journal of public
health, 92(9), 1421-1429.
Calavita, K. (1983). The demise of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: A
case study in symbolic action. Social Problems, 437-448.
Castillo, D. N., Landen, D. D., & Layne, L. A. (1994). Occupational injury deaths of 16-and
17-year-olds in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 84(4), 646-649.
Friend, M. A., & Kohn, J. P. (2014). Fundamentals of occupational safety and health. Bernan
McGarity, T. O., & Shapiro, S. A. (1993). Workers at risk: the failed promise of the
occupational safety and health administration. Praeger Publishers.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2014). United States Department of
Labor. Regulation. Acessado em, 10.
OSHA. (2016). Occupational Safety and Health Administration. [online] Available at:
http://www.osha.gov [Accessed 16 Apr. 2016].
Stellman, J. M. (Ed.). (1998). Encyclopaedia of occupational health and safety. International
Woolhandler, S., Campbell, T., & Himmelstein, D. U. (2003). Costs of health care
administration in the United States and Canada. New England Journal of
Medicine, 349(8), 768-775.