OSHA: Making the Workplace Safer
To address unsafe workplace conditions, Congress responded by creating a new agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The agency is under the control of the Department of Labor and was established in 1971 as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970. The official mission of the agency is to assure healthy and safe working conditions by setting and enforcing standards for safety. The protections of OSHA and the OSH Act apply to all federal agencies and most private sector employers. Most states have some form of their own OSHA to protect state workers.
Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace for employees. The workplace must not have serious hazards and must adhere to all OSHA health and safety standards. If there are health and safety problems, the employer must discover and correct these issues. In addition, employers have an affirmative duty to decrease or eliminate hazardous work conditions by making feasible changes to work conditions, instead of simply relying merely on protective gear like earplugs, gloves, and masks.
Employers also have a duty to inform workers about hazardous chemicals through alarm systems, labels, training, or chemical information sheets. Safety training must be given to workers in a language they can comprehend and understand. Routine workplace tests are also required under OSHA, such as air sampling tests. In the event of a fatality in the workplace, employers are required to alert OSHA within 8 hours of the accident. Severe, non-fatal injuries must be reported to OSHA within 24 hours. Employers are also responsible for providing information regarding OSHA about employer and employee rights and responsibilities under the Act. And perhaps most importantly, employers are proscribed from discriminating or retaliating against an employee for using rights under OSHA, such as the right to report a work illness or injury to the agency.
The OSH Act provides that employees have the right to work in conditions that do not raise a risk of severe harm. They have the right to file a completely confidential report or complaint with OSHA if they have concerns about the safety of their workplace. This carries with it the right to request OSHA to inspect the workplace, to take part in the inspection, and to speak privately with the inspector.
Employers are entitled to information and training regarding hazards and preventative methods and to be informed of the OSHA standards that apply to the workplace. They have the right to receive hard copies of reports about injuries and illnesses that occurred in the workplace, test results performed to measure hazardous conditions, and their own medical records. Should the employer retaliate or discriminate against the employee for employing rights under OSHA, the employee can seek redress with OSHA by filing a complaint. No employee can be fired, denied a raise, transferred, have his or her hours decreased, or punished because that employee reported an unsafe workplace or used his or her rights granted under the OSHA Act.