The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was introduced in 1970 to protect workers from hazardous workplace conditions and occupational accidents. In 1971, President Richard Nixon established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as part of the U.S. Department of Labor. Recent data shows that in the 50 years since the introduction of OSHA, the number of injuries occurring at the workplace dropped by half.
OSHA has rules for health protection and workplace safety that apply to all U.S. businesses. Its goal is to set and enforce standards that guarantee safe working conditions for all workers. The OSHA organization also provides training and support to employers and employees to help them address safety concerns.
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The OSH act governs most private-sector employees and employers and public sector employers across all states and federal territories, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
OSHA protects employees directly through its federal program or state-specific programs funded and guided by the national body. State-specific programs exist, for example, in California, Arizona, Michigan, Hawaii, and Washington.
Some states divide the protection of private and public sector employees between the federal OSHA organization and state programs. However, most employees in the private and public sectors are covered regardless of their work sector. The federal OSHA agency is the ultimate authority on occupational health and safety standards in the United States.
OSHA compliance is mandatory in the sense that if OSHA covers an employer, it must comply either with federal OSHA requirements or the applicable state program.
Some organizations are exempt from OSHA—these include farms employing relatives of the farm owner or employees of federal agencies such as the Department of Energy.
Under the OSH Act, employers must provide safe working conditions. In addition, they must adhere to OSHA standards to minimize the safety hazards present in the workplace. The law also guarantees employee rights, such as filing a complaint and protection from discrimination.
Compliance Safety and Health Officers inspect workplaces to enforce safety standards. Employers can typically expect OSHA inspections in advance, but they should also prepare for surprise inspections. Violations can result in fines.
The OSHA authorities introduced an emergency regulation in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which came into effect on November 5, 2021.
[Update] On November 22, 2021, OSHA temporarily suspended the ETS order as it's currently facing several legal challenges, given that it adds to the strains on workplaces affected by the pandemic. Companies with 100 employees or more must institute a vaccine mandate or require employees to wear masks and undergo weekly tests. If a company employs 100 workers or more at any time while the regulation is in effect, the regulation will continue to apply even if the workforce shrinks.
Employers must notify employees of COVID-related policies and provide information about vaccines. The OSHA emergency regulation does not apply to workplaces covered by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force's COVID-19 Workplace Safety guidelines or healthcare service regulations. The regulation also does not affect employees working from home or in an outdoor setting or alone in the workplace.
Related content: Read our guide to OSHA ETS
The following steps will help your organization achieve compliance with OSHA:
"In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, opposition briefs to the Department of Justice (DOJ) 's motion for a stay pending appeal are due Wednesday, December 15. The DOJ's reply is due Thursday, December 16. While these various briefs are filed, the contractor mandate is on hold due to a nationwide injunction issued by a federal district court in the Southern District of Georgia.
In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, briefs opposing DOJ's motion for a stay pending appeal are due Thursday, December 16. The DOJ's reply is due Monday, December 20. This case originated in the Eastern District of Kentucky, covering employers in K.Y., OH, and T.N."