The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) is a crucial law with which to familiarize yourself—and your employees—as a business owner or manager. The legislation is overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, who ensures employers are keeping work environments safe and healthful for all workers. 

OSHA applies to most businesses in the U.S., so whether you’re just starting out as an employer, or if you’re a seasoned business veteran and feel you need a refresher on the ins and outs of OSHA-approved working conditions, we’ve got you covered. 

Here’s a rundown of the laws, employer requirements, what kind of safety training to provide to employees, and what happens if a worker decides to file a complaint. Remember this is not official legal advice. If you have any OSHA-related concerns, it’s best to consult an employment lawyer. 

Who is covered under OSHA? 

If you have one or more employees—not including independent contractors or freelancers—you must comply with OSHA standards and regulations. While self-employed business owners are not covered, if the spouse of the business owner receives a paycheck as a result of the business, the spouse is covered.

Businesses with 10 or fewer employers during the last year are not required to file injury or illness reports, but all other OSHA regulations must be followed. 

What are employers required to follow under OSHA?

You must comply with several factors, the first of which is to display an OSHA-compliant poster in a prominent place so all of your employees are aware of their rights. Click here to download your free federal OSHA “It’s the Law” poster. 

Another important requirement is that you must report all injuries and incidents, including deaths, to an OSHA office near you. You can learn more about the reporting requirements on OSHA’s website

If you have less than 10 employees, the following trainings may be done orally. However, if you have 10 or more employees, a training plan must be written and kept in a visible area for employees to view. Let’s take a look at different areas in which you must train your employees. 

Hazardous Substances 

You must inform workers on how to identify hazardous substances and train them on how to treat any injuries that may occur from those materials. It’s important to know that although you might not deem a material as hazardous right away, the government could think otherwise. 

Any substance that could cause harm to an employee, both injury or illness, is considered hazardous. These can range from toxic or flammable substances in a warehouse to seemingly mundane chemicals in a normal office setting such as cleaning supplies that contain bleach. 

You are required to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets of all hazardous materials from the substance manufacturer. You can use this database to look for the sheets you need. The sheets must be kept in a place where employees can easily access them, and you must also train employees on how to locate necessary information on how to treat injuries from the pages.

First Aid/Blood-borne Pathogens

Employers are required to train workers on how to administer first aid and protect themselves from blood-borne pathogens at work. Blood-borne pathogens are diseases that are transferred through human blood and bodily fluids. The most common of these diseases are Hepatitis B, HIV, and Hepatitis C. 

If you employ medical workers, emergency professionals, or any other employee who has “occupational exposure” to blood-borne pathogens, you must provide blood-borne pathogens training to them. Still, all other workers should be given the training as well as part of their first aid training in case of an emergency. 

Fires and Emergencies

Make sure your employees know how to evacuate the building safely in case of fires or other emergencies, as well as how to use fire-fighting and personal protective equipment. If you need help deciding on the best exit route for your building, consult the OSHA Emergency Exit Routes Fact Sheet

What happens if a complaint is filed? 

If an employee files a complaint about your business’s working conditions, it’s best to not panic. The easiest way to minimize the fear that comes with an OSHA inspection is to have a response plan in place before anything occurs. 

Once you are informed of the complaint (likely through a phone call and a fax) you have five days to respond with any steps you have taken to right the wrongs, or prove there wasn’t anything wrong in the first place. In OSHA’s words:

“If we do not receive a response from you by (due date), indicating what appropriate action has been taken or that no hazard exists and why, an OSHA inspection will be conducted.” 

Be sure to act quickly, taking photos of any areas involved in the complaint and documenting any improvements. An inspection may be made unannounced—in fact, a routine inspection can even occur without a filed complaint—in which case the inspector will inspect all areas of your workplace. Make sure employees know what to do should an inspector come knocking. 

If one of your employees does in fact file a complaint, remember: under no circumstances are you allowed to punish them for it. The Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits employers from taking any action against an employee who alerts OSHA of a violation.  

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