Every business with employees is subject to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Act and is required to know employer obligations regarding health and safety. Employers must provide a workplace free from safety and health hazards and comply with OSHA rules and regulations. OSHA addresses specific industry hazards in published standards, as well as any hazards not covered in those standards in its general duty clause. OSHA’s standards have four major categories, including general industry standards covering the basic duties of businesses in all industries.

General Duty Clause

OSHA’s general duty clause requires employers to maintain safe workplaces free from known hazards that can cause injury, illness or death. The general duty clause protects employees when there are no specific industry standards and encourages employers to develop safety plans to recognize and identify potential hazards in their workplaces. Employers must be aware that any work hazard that isn’t covered by a specific or general industry standard may be covered by the OSHA general duty clause.

General Industry Standards

Although OSHA’s general industry standards apply to any employment in any industry, particular industry standards take priority over general standards for identical hazards. General industry standards include requirements to provide personal protective equipment at no cost to employees and hazard communication if your business deals with hazardous materials. General industry standards cover situations such as walking and working surfaces, ventilation, medical and first aid, handheld equipment, exit routes, emergency action plans and fire protection.


Employers are in violation of OSHA’s general duty clause if a serious hazard is found and the following conditions applied: the employer knew about the hazard or should have known about it from industry recognition or common sense; the hazard was foreseeable; and workers were exposed to it. Employers can review emerging issues that OSHA investigates when developing new rules to try to anticipate and prepare for general duty clause issues and avoid violations.


Compliance to meet basic duties under OSHA includes activities such as using safety devices, recordkeeping, installing safeguards such as guardrails and fire extinguishers and training employees on recognizing safety hazards. Many companies work to comply by identifying industry standards that apply to their workplaces, reviewing the standards so all employees know them and developing safety processes and procedures in accordance with their legal obligations.