The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal organization included under the Department of Labor, which enforces specific standards and safety training to protect the health and wellbeing of American employees. OSHA was established as a response to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) of 1970, whose purpose is to guarantee safe and healthful working environments for Americans by encouraging states and companies by providing education and information on occupational health. The OSH Act includes one most basic workplace standard. This is called the "general duty standard" which states "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free form recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees" and " each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act. This standard is the foundation for OSHA. OSHA focuses on providing information about potentially hazardous work conditions to employers in order to prevent workplace injuries and deaths. OSHA enforces a rigid set of additional safety standards, which must be obeyed by all businesses. These standards can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). There are three categories of regulations. First are interim standards, which were standards valid for two years after the OSH Act was passed. Second are temporary emergencies standards, which are standards put in place for six months while OSHA completes the process of developing permanent standards for the company. Lastly, permanent standards are those OSHA implements after completing processes required to pass regulations of federal administration agencies. Along with creating the foundation for these standards, the OSH Act of 1970 also prompted the establishment of a research institute called the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH aids the OSHA in determining permanent standards by providing information to OSHA about rates of occupational exposure, injury, illness and death in the U.S. This information is acquired via several sources, such as labor unions as well as independent groups.
To assure companies are adhering to OSHA's standards, it is required that companies keep four different kinds of records relevant to the health and safety of their employees. These four categories are those concerning enforcement of OSHA standards, research records, job-related injury, illness and death records, and job hazard records. OSHA also completes inspections of workplaces to ensure businesses adhere to these safety guidelines. These visits can be either planned or without notice. The employer and an employee representative are allowed to accompany OSHA's representative during the inspection. In 1978, the case of Marshall v. Barlow gave employers the right to deny an OSHA inspector access to inspection if the inspector does not first obtain a warrant. If the OSHA inspector does find a violation during the inspection, OSHA may issue a citation followed by an abatement period during which the employer can correct such violations. Penalties following the discovery of a violation can be either civil or criminal and vary in severity depending on the nature of the violation.
In some cases, OSHA does not hold exclusive authority involving the health and safety of workers. Individual states can pass their own laws and standards regarding occupational safety. If the state can prove its standards to be "at least as effective as" similar federal standards, the state can become certified by OSHA standards acknowledging that the state has a comprehensive health and safety plan. Once the state completes its plan and OSHA confirms it as acceptable, OSHA allows the states to enforce its laws without help from OSHA, although OSHA still has authority. One year after a certification is presented, the state can gain final approval in which OSHA relinquishes control over occupational safety as long as the state agrees to participate in OSHA's on-line inspection data system before operating without OSHA regulation.
While not perfect, OSHA has done a very good job in ensuring that workplace safety is not compromised or ignored. It has provided workers and employers with better tools and procedure to maintain a safer workplace which consequently leads to fewer workplace injuries and fatalities. If you or a loved one has been injured on the job and if you feel that the safety standards were not met, call the workplace injury lawyers of Altman & Altman LLP for a free initial consultation.
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