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OSHA Demystified: Answers to the Top Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by National Safety Council

Safety_InspectionThe term OSHA is often met with the same trepidation as the term IRS. Whether you are relatively new to workplace safety or a long-time safety manager, understanding OSHA can feel like an insurmountable task. In reality, once you strip away the complex language, you’ll find OSHA’s mission and activities are laser focused on protecting employees in the workplace.  

6 Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) about OSHA

1. What is OSHA?

OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration created by Congress in 1970 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, is part of the United States Department of Labor. The goal of this legislation was to prevent workers from on the job death or serious injury. OSHA sets and enforces safety guidelines to assure safe working environments. It also provides education and assistance for employers to help meet those guidelines.

2. What does OSHA require?

Generally speaking, OSHA requires that each employer: a) Maintains a safe and healthy workplace; and b) Complies with occupational and safety standards as required by law.

3. Who is covered by OSHA?

OSHA covers most private sector employers and their employees in all 50 states. Some states have developed and implemented their own health and safety programs called State Plans, which expand upon federal OSHA regulations. Employees not covered by OSHA include self-employed workers and immediate family members of farm employers.

4. What are state OSHA Programs?

OSHA encourages states to develop and manage their own safety and health programs for the workplace. Federal OSHA approves and monitors these State Plans currently operating in 22 states.

In order to receive OSHA State Program recognition, states must set job safety and health requirements to, at the very least, federal standards. States must also provide training and education programs and conduct their own inspections to enforce standards.

For more detailed information on State Plans, please reference the following OSHA webpage.

5. What do employers need to know about OSHA Inspections?

  • OSHA inspections are automatically triggered by a workplace fatality or workplace incidents that result in 3 or more employees requiring in-patient hospitalization.
  • OSHA inspections may be initiated without advance notice.
  • Inspections may be triggered by employee complaints about unsafe working environments.
  • If violations are found in an inspection, employers may be issued citations or fines. 
  • Employers have the right to contest citations.

6. What do employees need to know about OSHA?

Employees have the right to know about hazards inherent with the jobs that they perform.  Employers must provide information, training and/or equipment to mitigate those hazards. When an employer is in violation of OSHA regulations and/or if the employee believes that there are hazards in the workplace, they may file a formal health hazard complaint.

Understanding OSHA

The general principles of OSHA are very simple. However, the regulations themselves are much more complex. It is incumbent upon an employer to know what specific regulations apply to his/her organization. For more information on Workplace Safety, visit the National Safety Council Safety at Work webpage.


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