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What Does It Mean to Be OSHA Compliant?

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OSHA standards positively impact every American worker. Since 1970, OSHA compliance has protected workers and prevented work-related injuries.

What Is OSHA Compliance?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970) compliance is being aligned with the rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards, which are established and enforced by a branch of the federal Department of Labor. Part of the Code of Federal Regulations parts 26 and 29, OSHA compliance ensures that employers create and maintain a safe workplace for their employees.

A “person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees, but does not include the United States or any state or political subdivision of a State.” 

Definition of Employer, OSHA Compliance Standards

According to this definition, OSHA applies to employers and employees in a wide range of fields, including manufacturing, construction, longshoring, agriculture, law, medicine, nonprofits, disaster relief, organized labor, and private education. OSHA compliance standards also apply to religious groups to the extent that they employ workers for secular purposes.

OSHA compliance standards for construction work, maritime operations, and general industry are in place. The standards for the general industry are the OSHA compliance set that applies to most worksites. 

There are standards for virtually every type of worksite and business activity within these broad categories. If a specific OSHA compliance standard does not cover a particularly unusual workplace activity, it is put under the “General Duty Clause” umbrella. This is a broad statement directing that employers have a duty to establish and maintain a safe workplace for their employees. 

At a high level, OSHA compliance standards require employers to:

  • Keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to
  • Monitor hazards 
  • Require the use of certain safe practices and equipment

Specific examples of OSHA compliance standards include requirements to provide:

  • Assurance that workers can safely enter confined spaces
  • Fall protection
  • Guards on machines
  • Infectious disease prevention and containment
  • Protection from exposure to harmful substances, such as asbestos
  • Respirators or other safety equipment
  • Training for certain dangerous jobs
  • Trenching cave-ins preventative measures

Coverage of the OSHA extends to all employers and their employees in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all other territories under the United States federal government’s jurisdiction.

Some states have applied for and received an exception from federal OSHA compliance standards by creating their own state OSHA compliance standards. This is allowed only if the rules and regulations established are equal to or more stringent than those created by the federal government’s OSHA compliance standards.

An example is California’s Cal-OSHA, one of the most extensive state-OSHA compliance standards. In many ways, the Cal-OSHA compliance rules and regulations far exceed those established by the federal government.

Getting Started with OSHA Compliance

Most businesses have several OSHA compliance standards to adhere to in order to meet the requirements for providing employees with a safe worksite. OSHA compliance starts with identifying which standards apply and then developing, implementing, and maintaining policies, procedures, and training programs to educate employees about safety and ensure that the worksite conforms to the standards. Remember, successful OSHA compliance takes much more than common sense. The rules for OSHA compliance are detailed and nuanced, demanding careful and regular reviews.

Employer Responsibilities for OSHA Compliance

Any business or organization that employs workers must adhere to OSHA compliance standards to protect their employees. Employees are granted several important rights under OSHA, and employers are responsible for seeing to it that these are supported in the workplace. 

Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of OSHA, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious, recognized hazards. Any employer who OSHA covers is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe working environment that’s free of recognized hazards and for following all the OSHA health and safety standards that apply.

Any safety or health hazards must be identified and fixed. This remediation includes making physical or engineering changes to working conditions rather than addressing the issue by having employees use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves.

Employers’ OSHA Compliance Requirements

Other responsibilities of employers to meet OSHA compliance standards are to:

  • Conduct required exposure testing in the workplace (e.g., air quality, noise sampling)
  • Display official OSHA Job Safety and Health poster at worksites  
  • Educate employees about safety in a language they can understand 
  • Inform employees of chemical hazards through a variety of methods, including training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, and information sheets 
  • Keep accurate records of all workplace injuries and illnesses 
  • Never retaliate against employees who use their rights under the law, including their rights to report a workplace injury or illness 
  • Notify OSHA (by calling 1-800-321-OSHA [6742]) within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or 24 hours of a workplace injury resulting in inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye
  • Offer hearing exams and other medical testing for employees as prescribed by OSHA 
  • Post any OSHA citations and injury and illness data where employees can easily see it
  • Provide required PPE to employees at no cost

Rights of Employees Under OSHA

Under OSHA, employees are granted certain rights they can exercise to ensure a safe worksite. These include the right to:

File a complaint with OSHA and request an inspection of their workplace

  • Receive copies of:
    • Records of environmental tests done at their workplace
    • Records about injuries and illnesses in their workplace
    • Their workplace health records
  • Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak with the inspector privately
  • File a complaint with OSHA if any of their rights have been infringed upon  
  • File a whistleblower complaint if they have been retaliated against for making a safety complaint

Assistance, Education, and Training for OSHA Compliance

Almost all OSHA compliance standards have an employee training component. For example, employers must train employees on any job site hazards. In addition, employers must maintain documentation to prove that the training has been done.  

OSHA’s Training Standards at a Glance

- Each employee must be trained in the tasks, situations, and tools they will use on the job
- Training must be provided by a qualified person in a  manner the employee best understands(i.e., appropriate language and vocabulary) 
- Training must be documented and stored for a period of time
- Training must be performed as often as required for safe operations

Which States Require Additional Training by Law?

Some states that have created their own version of OSHA (e.g., Cal-OSHA) have training requirements that go beyond the standards for federal OSHA. Training programs like OSHA 10 and OSHA 30, voluntary for companies under federal jurisdiction, are required in some states. 

For instance, OSHA 10 training is required by Connecticut, Missouri, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island when working on publicly funded projects of certain contract values. Nevada requires OSHA 10 Training for all employees at least once every five years and OSHA 30 Training for all managers at least once every five years. 

In addition, California’s training requirements include an Injury and Illness Prevention Program and a Heat Illness Prevention Plan for agricultural and construction workers. Finally, Maryland has enhanced requirements for heavy equipment training.

OSHA 10-hour training teaches basic safety and health information to entry-level workers in construction and the general industry. It is part of the OSHA Outreach Training Program, which explains serious workplace hazards, workers’ rights, employer responsibilities, and how to file an OSHA complaint.

OSHA 30-Hour training for construction and general industry prepares supervisors and workers to avoid workplace safety and health risks. Topics covered in OSHA 30-Hour training include general worksite safety, avoiding common hazards, understanding workers’ rights, employer responsibilities, and more.

How to Ensure OSHA Compliance

OSHA Compliance FAQ

Do OSHA Compliance Standards and Regulations Cover All Employees?

OSHA covers all employees except self-employed workers, workers on farms at which only immediate members of the farmer’s family are employed, or employees in states with their own OSHA-approved state plans, in which case the state’s rules cover them. In addition, OSHA does not apply to particular working conditions addressed by regulations or standards affecting occupational safety or health that are issued by federal agencies, such as Mine Safety and Health Administration and some agencies of the Department of Transportation.

OSHA covers most private employers and the people who work for them. It also covers some public sector employees throughout all 50 states and federal territories, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands.

The following states and territories have their own state-run workplace health and safety programs that are overseen by OSHA: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

What Organizations Are Exempt From OSHA Recordkeeping Requirements?

Certain low-hazard industries are exempt from OSHA recordkeeping, including:

  • Automobile dealers
  • Business services
  • Eating and drinking places
  • Education-related enterprises 
  • Finance
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Membership organizations
  • Real estate
  • Retail
  • Social and cultural services 
  • Some service industries

What Is an OSHA Compliance Officer?

An OSHA compliance officer, also known as an OSHA inspector, is a representative of OSHA responsible for inspecting workplaces and holding employers accountable to OSHA compliance standards. The OSHA fact sheet on inspections states that they “are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals whose goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements and help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.”

Why Would an OSHA Compliance Officer Make an Unannounced Visit to a Worksite?

With millions of worksites under their jurisdiction, realistically OSHA compliance officers cannot inspect every facility on a regular basis. An OSHA compliance officer usually goes to a worksite with a warrant for an inspection because they have a precipitating cause or complaint. Based on the priorities outlined in OSHA’s fact sheet on inspections, these are several likely reasons for an OSHA compliance officer’s visit. 

  • They have reason to suspect a situation of imminent danger
  • They have received a report of severe injuries or illness
  • An employee has complained
  • Someone outside the worksite has reported a possible violation (e.g., other federal, state, and local agencies; individuals; organizations; the media) 
  • The organization operates in a high-hazard industry or has a history of injuries and illnesses at the worksite
  • The organization was recently cited for violations

What are the Most Common Triggers for an OSHA Compliance Inspection?

  • Employee complaints
  • Equipment-based (e.g., forklifts, presses)
  • Routine follow-up from prior inspections
  • Hazard-based (e.g., combustible dust)
  • Industry-based (e.g., logging, residential construction)
  • Plain view (e.g., OSHA compliance officer drives by a construction project and sees an unsafe worksite)
  • Referrals from other agencies (e.g., local building inspectors, EPA inspectors)
  • When OSHA learns of a fatality, hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye

What Not to Do After an OSHA Inspection

After an OSHA compliance inspection, an employer should, under no circumstances, try to find out who filed the complaint or take any negative action against the informant if they are known.

How to Avoid a Visit From an OSHA Compliance Officer

The easiest way to decrease the odds of a surprise OSHA compliance inspection is to maintain a safe and healthy work environment.

What If an Organization Fails to Meet OSHA Compliance Standards?

If an organization is not OSHA compliant, they may be putting employees at risk of injury, illness, or worse. Employers are subject to steep fines for OSHA compliance violations. 

Type of ViolationPenalty
Posting Requirements
$14,502 per violation
Failure to Abate$14,502 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated$14,502 per violation

Which OSHA Compliance Standards Are Most Commonly Violated?

  • Fall Protection    
  • Hazard communication  
  • Ladders    
  • Lockout/Tagout 
  • Machine guarding 
  • Powered industrial trucks (e.g., forklifts)   
  • PPE
  • Respiratory protection  
  • Scaffolds 

OSHA Compliance: For the Benefit of All American Workers

OSHA standards positively impact every American worker. OSHA is rooted in the principle that no person should ever be injured, become ill, or die for a paycheck. Since 1970, OSHA compliance has protected workers and prevented work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths by setting and enforcing standards and directing training, outreach, education, and assistance. 

While a legal requirement, OSHA compliance has the halo effect of boosting morale, benefiting employers and employees. It not only increases productivity and lowers the number of absences, but it also reduces the number of accidents on-site.

Egnyte has experts ready to answer your questions. For more than a decade, Egnyte has helped more than 16,000 customers with millions of customers worldwide.

Last Updated: 10th March, 2022

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