In 1971, the federal agency known as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was created to ensure that U.S. workplaces were safe and healthy for all employees. In this article, we'll review what OSHA is about and end with some helpful hints to make compliance for your business a little easier.
Pre-OSHA History of U.S. Safety
Prior to OSHA, there were no uniform regulations to protect our citizens against health safety hazards while at work. As a consequence, we were annually experiencing more than 14,000 workplace deaths, 300,000 cases of workplace-related illnesses and over two million disabilities. Lacking safe working conditions, business lost wages, work time and productivity. As a result, a bi-partisan Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) in order to help prevent health and safety problems in our workplaces and preserve our human resources.
What is OSHA’s requirement of businesses?
The OSHAct created OSHA (The Occupational Health and Safety Administration) within
- Encourage employers and employees to reduce hazards and implement or improve safety and health programs,
- Provide research in occupational safety and health,
- Establish separate but “dependent responsibilities and rights” for employers and employees to achieve better safety and health conditions,
- Maintain a reporting and recordkeeping system to monitor job-related injuries and illnesses,
- Establish training programs to increase both the number of and the competence of occupational safety and health personnel,
- Provide for the development of state safety and health programs.
What are the most frequently cited violations in the past year? (data, references from OSHA)
- Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
- Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
- Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200)
- Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
- Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, general industry (29 CFR 1910.305)
- Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
- Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
- Electrical systems design, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.303)
- Machine guarding (machines, general requirements, general industry) (29 CFR 1910.212)
How effective is OSHA? (Data from OSHA)
- In four decades, OSHA and its state partners, coupled with the efforts of employers, safety and health professionals, unions and advocates, have had a dramatic effect on workplace safety.
- Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled.
- Worker deaths in America are down — from about 38 worker deaths a day (13,870) in 1970 to 13 a day (4,745) in 2010
- Worker injuries and illnesses are down — from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to fewer than 4 per 100 in 2010
What are some suggestions to comply with OSHA regulations?
- Taking a proactive approach to safety is a place to start. The major points OSHA suggests are:
- Management commitment and employee involvement through a written program (posted in all workplaces) and a positive attitude towards safety and health by management.
- Worksite analysis to determine and fix any safety problems
- Hazard prevention and control through protective equipment,
- Training for supervisors and managers
- Documentation of your activities
- Safety and Health recordkeeping
Some things owners/managers can do to be in compliance are:
- After you have a written policy (it doesn’t have to be lengthy, just specific), hold a meeting with all employees to discuss it. Give everyone a copy or make it easily accessible (bulletin board, etc.) Make sure everyone is aware of his/her responsibilities. Annually review your accomplishments and objectives.
- Get help with a worksite analysis either through your insurance carrier (see answer to the last question) or from OSHA's state consultation program. Twenty-seven states have approved state plans.
- Set up safe work procedures and be ready to enforce the rules when needed.
- Plan for likely emergencies—fire, natural disasters, violence, etc. and drill often enough so people know what to do in case of the real thing.
- Train new people on safety procedures and responsibilities.
- Document what you do so that you have a record if OSHA visits your work site.
- Complete all required OSHA recordkeeping and reports.
What is OSHA recordkeeping in simple terms?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 directed the Secretary of Labor to produce regulations that require employers to keep records of occupational deaths, injuries, and illnesses. The records are used for several purposes. OSHA uses injury and illness statistics in several ways. OSHA collects data through the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) to help direct its programs and measure its own performance. Inspectors also use the data during inspections to help direct their efforts to the hazards that are hurting workers. Employers and employees may use records to implement safety and health programs at individual workplaces. Analysis of the data is a widely recognized method for discovering workplace safety and health problems and for tracking progress in solving those problems. The records also provide the base data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, the Nation's primary source of occupational injury and illness data.
Where can I get more information?
The OSHA web site (www.osha.gov) is a good place to start. A lot of free information is provided there as well as contact information, resources, etc. Your own state likely has an OSHA office that may be even more accessible to your business. A good publication is the OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses which can be downloaded free of charge. Other safety information can be obtained through your Worker’s Compensation carrier or general liability carrier. Often, insurance companies will provide assistance to you at little or no cost because it benefits them as well as you (reduced accidents = fewer claims = fewer dollars spent = reduced premiums next year). A number of companies produce OSHA/safety awareness and training materials. These can be purchased on a one-time basis, or employers can subscribe to get the latest safety information. Your insurer may have a safety specialist on staff that can help with mock OSHA audits, development of a written safety program and required training. If it does cost a few dollars, it may be a good investment not only to make sure you are in OSHA’s good graces, but also to provide a safe place for your most valuable resources---your employees.
Sid Scott is president of Scott Consultants in Dubuque, Iowa. E-mail email@example.com to contact Sid.