OSHA Standards in the Workplace
We assist clients with compliance matters pertaining to safety standards in the workplace, as set forth in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the “Act”), a federal workplace safety law administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”).
The Act was passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work. In general, the law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The Act also created OSHA as a government agency under the United States Department of Labor. OSHA sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training and assistance to employers and workers.
At its heart, the Act gives workers the right to safe working conditions. It is the duty of employers to provide workplaces that are free of known dangers that could harm their employees. The general responsibility to provide a safe workplace stems from what is commonly known as the General Duty Clause of the Act, which states “[e]ach employer shall furnish to each of his employee’s employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).
Employers can be cited for violation of the General Duty Clause if a recognized serious hazard exists in the workplace and the employer does not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. The General Duty Clause is used only when there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard in question.
The following elements are necessary to prove a violation of the General Duty Clause:
- The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
- The hazard was recognized;
- The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
- There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.
Under the Act, employers and employees also must “comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.” 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(2). OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are four groups of OSHA standards: General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture. These standards are designed to protect workers from a wide range of hazards. These standards also limit the amount of hazardous chemicals, substances, or noise that workers can be exposed to; require the use of certain safe work practices and equipment; and require employers to monitor certain hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to:
- Provide fall protection, such as a safety harness and lifeline;
- Prevent trenching cave-ins;
- Ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces such as manholes or grain bins;
- Prevent exposure to high levels of noise that can damage hearing;
- Put guards on machines;
- Prevent exposure to harmful levels of substances like asbestos and lead;
- Provide workers with respirators and other needed safety equipment (in almost all cases, free of charge);
- Provide healthcare workers with needles and sharp instruments that have built-in safety features to prevent skin punctures or cuts that could cause exposure to infectious diseases; and
- Train workers using a language and vocabulary they understand about hazards and how to protect themselves.
The Act also gives workers important rights to participate in activities to ensure their protection from job hazards. Workers generally have the right to:
- File a confidential complaint with OSHA to have their workplace inspected;
- Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace, in a language and vocabulary workers can understand;
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace;
- Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in the workplace;
- Get copies of their workplace medical records;
- Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector;
- File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the Act;
- File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a “whistleblower.” See Whistleblowing in the Workplace.
If you seek legal counsel related to an OSHA matter, contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley directly at (314) 645-4100 or by email at email@example.com. All consultations are maintained as strictly confidential.