OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is a federal agency within the Department of Labor that was created to define and enforce safe and healthy work environments. OSHA was created in 1970 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by Congress. This legislation assigned OSHA the task to create safety and health standards in the workplace.
What the Act Says
The act itself takes up a simple paragraph, but the explanation of the act is quite extensive. Here are the exact words: “To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.” What follows these statements is what defines the Act and outlines the process for implementation.
Who Follows OSHA Standards?
Employers and their employees are the focus of OSHA standards. The act defines an employer as any person “engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States (not including the United States Postal Service) or any State or political subdivision of a State.” This does not include the self-employed, businesses that are covered under other legislation (mining, airlines, railroads or nuclear weapons makers), family farms and state governments. The self-employed, if working for another business that must follow requirements, can ask to work with OSHA standards. When serving as employers, state governments may decide on their own to follow OSHA requirements or to create their own standards.
Knowing What OSHA Requires
Recognized hazards to an employee's safety are the basis for OSHA rules. OSHA will assist a business in learning what standards it must follow and can be contacted through their website. Some states have adopted a state plan (these are called state plan states) that is followed instead of the federal plan. If this is so, then the citizens of that state must follow the state regulations and not the federal regulations. Generally this means that the state follows OSHA regulations but has added further requirements for employers in that state. For example, New Mexico is a state plan state and has an agency, the Occupations Health and Safety Bureau, that handles OSHA and state-specific regulations.
Exemptions to Requirements
OSHA does provide partial exemption for companies employing 10 or fewer employees and for some businesses in certain industries. In general employers in these categories do not have to keep OSHA injury and illness records unless OSHA requests it of the business directly, in writing. Businesses that OSHA has classified as low-hazard, such as service, financial, real estate, retail and insurance, do not report these records unless there has been a fatality or hospitalization of three or more employees. Further information can be found at OSHA under the 1904.1 and 1904.2 sections of OSHA Standards 29-CFR.
How Requirements Are Written
OSHA regulations are broken down into four categories: general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime. Standards begin as proposed rules that outline hazards as identified by NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH is the research agency for OSHA. Both proposed and final rulings can be viewed on the OSHA website. Corrections to rulings and notices about OSHA-related material are also available. Final rulings are given Federal Register numbers and are available through the Federal Register.