Unsafe working conditions can have harmful effects on the health and safety of your employees. Sadly, several employers ignore the fact that insecure conditions affect the productivity of their workforce and this, in turn, results in financial and time costs to the company. Workplace Safety and Health laws emphasize the significance of providing information, training, and supervision to ensure the health and safety of your employees at work.
In this blog, we discuss the different laws related to workplace safety and health administered and enforced by the United States Department of Labor (U.S. DOL), with a focus on the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).
The Occupational Safety and Health Act, passed in 1970, created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which supervises health and safety in the place of work. It is a regulatory agency of the U.S. DOL. According to OSHA, its mission is “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance”.
To implement its mission, OSHA concentrates on the following activities:
Business owners and HR managers must note that some state standards are different from federal standards. So, you need to be aware of the laws in the individual state in which your company is operating.
OSHA standards are rules that refer to the ways and means that employers must use to safeguard their employees from hazards. Even though the standards may appear to apply only to companies in production, manufacturing, or construction, companies with primarily an office function are also required to abide by the laws set by OSHA. The four groups of OSHA standards are General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture. General Industry is the set that applies to the vastest number of workers and worksites. The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states, and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority.
Under OSHA law, employers are obliged to provide workers with a hazard-free place of work and must follow all the standards. They are responsible for finding and correcting all workplace safety and health problems, and this includes bringing a change in the working conditions like switching to safer chemicals, providing protective equipment, etc.
Other guidelines that employers must follow include:
Compliance with the OSHA standards is not the responsibility of employers alone. Workers also have a responsibility to attend training, ensure they report unsafe work, and follow guidelines set out by employers and the administration. They are entitled to a few rights including:
The enforcement responsibilities of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (commonly known as the Mine Act)lie with the DOL’s agency named the Mine Safety and Health Administration(MSHA). The agency oversees the protection of the safety and health of workers employed in the nation's mines. The Act applies to all mining and mineral processing operations in the United States, regardless of size, number of employees, or method of extraction. Aspects like the number of annual inspections required at mines, rights for miners & their protection from retaliation for exercising such rights, mandatory miner training provisions, etc. come under the purview of the MSHA.
Besides establishing standards like minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping concerning full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and Federal, State, and local governments, the FLSA has set up child labor standards concerning the employment of workers under the age of 18.These rules are intended to protect the health and well-being of youth in America and are administered and enforced by DOL's Wage and Hour Division. The FLSA contains minimum age restrictions for employment, restrictions on the times of day youth may work, and the jobs they may perform.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leaves for family and medical reasons. Based on the employer or employee’s decision, certain paid leaves can substitute for unpaid leaves. To avail the said leaves, the employees are required to provide a notice in advance and medical certification. The employees who have worked for their given employers for at least a year, for 1250 hours in the previous year are eligible for the FMLA.
What is the Whistleblower Protection Act?
The Whistleblower Protection Act requires that employers to avoid taking action against employees (whistleblowers) who file complaints alleging OSHA violations. The act ensures protection from workplace retaliation thereby prohibiting adverse actions against employees, such as firing or laying off, demoting, denying overtime or promotion, or reducing pay or hours, for engaging in activities protected by OSHA’s whistleblower laws.
Who is covered under OSHA?
If you have one or more employees (excluding independent contractors or freelancers), you are bound to comply with OSHA standards and regulations. In cases where the self-employed business owners are not covered and if the spouse of the business owner receives a paycheck as a result of the business, the latter is covered. Businesses under certain industries that hire less than ten employees are not required to file an injury or illness report, but all other OSHA regulations must be followed.
What are the OSHA Forms 300, 300-A, and 301?
The OSHA Form 300 is a form for employers to record all reportable injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace, where and when they occur, the nature of the case, the name and job title of the employee injured or made sick, and the number of days away from work or on restricted or light duty, if any. If you are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, you must post the OSHA 300- A (Summary of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses) at your establishment in a conspicuous place or places where notices to employees are customarily posted. Form 301 is called the Injury and Illness Incident Report, which is used to record information on how each injury or illness case occurred. The OSHA form 301 and 300-A must be made available to workers if they ask to see them.
Workplace Safety and Health laws throw light on the rights of the employees as well as the responsibilities of the employers that help build safer and healthful workplaces. Though workplace safety is considered to be the responsibility of everyone in the organization, employers, HR professionals, and managers should remember that they play a large role in developing standards that ensure adherence to the health and safety laws.