The US Occupational Safety and Health Act provides employees with safety and health at the workplace. The act protects employees from harm or death at the workplace. The Congress passed the bill in 1970. It required that all employers should provide their workers with workplace conditions that are safe and free from observable safety and health hazards. These hazards include mechanical dangers, exposure to toxic chemicals, or cold stress, excessive noise levels, heat or unsanitary conditions.
Through the Act, the Government created OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). OSHA formulates and enforces protective workplace health and safety standards. OSHA has the mandate of providing information, training and assistance to employers and workers. The US government through the Department of Labor‘s OSHA department requires all employers and workers to comply with the adopted occupational safety and health standards.
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OSH Act protects workers in state and government employment, federal government employments as well as private sectors employees. Virtually all employees in USA fall under OSHA's cover. OSHA covers all private sector employees and employers in all US states. OSHA also covers the District of Columbia, and other United States territory directly through Federal OSHA or OSHA-approved state plans. The Federal OSHA approves State -run workplace health and safety programs if they are as effective as the Federal OSHA program (OSHA, 2000).
Federal Departments and agencies must have a workplace safety and health program with the same standards as the private employers. Despite the fact that OSHA does not have the mandate to penalize federal agencies and Departments, it monitors the federal agencies and quickly responds to workers' health and safety complaints. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is an example of the few agencies, covered by OSHA.
Workers in state and local governments’ employments are not usually covered by federal OSHA. However, they have OSH Act protections in those states that have OSHA-approved state programs. States such as Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, and the Virgin Islands are other states and one US territory that have OSHA approved programs that cover public sector workers only. The federal OSHA covers private sector employees in these states and the Virgin Islands (US EPA, 2009).
OSH Act does not cover employees, working in the immediate family farms, self-employed persons, and workers under other federal health and safety agencies. Such workers include those in mining, nuclear energy industry, and transportation industries (US EPA, 2009).
OSHA has two regulatory functions. These are setting workplace standards and conducting all necessary inspections to make that employers provide safe and healthful workplaces continuously. The standards may require all employers to adopt certain methods, processes, practices, or means, reasonably appropriate and necessary to protect workers on the job (OSHA, 2000). The employers must become familiar with the set standards applicable to their business, company or organization and eliminate recognized hazards.
Compliance with OSHA’s workplace standards may include establishing engineering controls to limit employees’ exposures to toxic substances, and physical hazards. The employers should also implement administrative controls within the framework of all operations. They have the responsibility of ensuring the company provides employees with personal protective equipment. In addition, the company ensures all workers get effective training on this equipment and their use, when required for safety and health reasons.
Wherever administrative or engineering controls have not been feasibly implemented, the employees must learn personal protection and have access to protective equipments. All workers must comply with all set regulations and rules that apply to their area of jurisdiction, actions and conduct. Employers and employees must comply with OSH Act's "general duty" clause even in areas and situations, where OSHA has not set standards, addressing a hazard. Section 5(a) 1 of OSH Act contains the “general duty” clause. The clause states that all employers shall furnish an area of employment free from noticeable hazards that are likely to cause physical harm death or serious injuries to their employees (OSHA, 2000).
The Federal OSHA Standards are in four main groups: general industry; construction; maritime including shipyards, long shoring, marine terminals; and agriculture. Some standards apply to just one category (OSHA, 2000). Other standards apply across different categories. The universal standards include those, addressing personal protective equipment, access to medical and exposure records, and hazard communication.
Personal protective equipment standards cut across all sections of the industry. OSHA requires employers to provide their workers with complete personal protective equipment, well designed for protecting them against recognized hazards. The standard also requires employers to ensure the workers get effective training on the use of these equipments. Each section of the industry has its own separate definition of this standard. The only category that has the same standard is the agriculture industry. These equipments range from protective helmets in construction and cargo handling work, face masks, eye protection goggles, special goggles for welders, hearing protection, hard-toed shoes, and gauntlets for iron workers.
The second universal standard is access to medical and exposure records. This regulation offers a right of access to employees, their representatives, and or OSHA to all relevant medical records. These include records, related an employee’s exposure to toxic substances, hospitalizations and actions taken.
Hazard communication standards require all importers and manufacturers of hazardous substances to conduct hazard evaluations and analysis of the materials or products they import or manufacture. In case, a substance, a part of it or the product are hazardous under the terms of the standard, the importer or manufacturer must indicate on the package or container of the material or product. In addition, a material safety data sheet (MSDS) must accompany the first transportation of the material to all customers (OSHA, 2000). Employers must first train their employees on the MSDS so that they can recognize and possibly avoid the hazards, presented by product or materials.
In general, OSHA standards require employers to inform all employees about known hazards through alarms, labels, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets, training, and other methods. The industry should keep relevant accurate medical records of work-related illnesses and injuries. The safety and health administration should carry out tests and sampling in the workplace as required by OSHA standards. Such tests include hearing exams for noise, air sampling, and other OSHA medical tests, required by the standards.
In case of workplace incident or accident, three or more workers get hospitalized, or one employee dies, the employer must notify OSHA within 8 hours from the time of the incident. All work-related injury and illness data must be on the OSHA poster in the workplace, accessible to all employees. Apart from ensuring these standards, OSHA provides legal grounds for employees to voice their safety complaints (OSHA, 2000). It has a legal framework that ensures employers do not discriminate workers.