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March 26, 2021 | HR Compliance | Posted by Ascentis

What is OSHA and Why is it Important to Safety?

Even people who don’t regularly work with workplace safety issues are likely familiar with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. The organization has become synonymous with workplace safety since its founding in the early 1970s, but many employers who are impacted by it don’t have much understanding about what it is or how it works. We’ve put together a brief rundown on what OSHA means to employers and how it impacts your organization’s day-to-day workforce safety measures.

What is OSHA?

OSHA was formed in 1970 via an act of Congress, with the mission of establishing national standards for protecting workers against safety and health risks in the workplace. Prior to that legislation, workforce protection in the U.S. was a patchwork of state and local regulations balanced uneasily against various industry and union rules. The Occupational Health and Safety Act included the formation of a dedicated agency governing safety standards for nearly all American employers. The establishment of a single agency to oversee and enforce a targeted set of rules created a uniform system of workforce safety rules for the first time in the nation’s history.

Does OSHA apply to my business?

OSHA currently covers employees in all U.S. states, territories, and jurisdictions under federal authority. That means that if you are a private business that employs workers in the United States, you are almost certainly subject to OSHA regulations. There are a few exceptions, including:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Farm workers within an immediate family
  • State and local government employees (whose safety is often governed by a state organization)
  • Workers in certain fields whose safety is under the jurisdiction of a different federal organization, including certain transport workers, miners, and workers in atomic energy fields

If your business does not fall under any of those umbrellas, then developing a working knowledge of OSHA regulations is a must.

What does OSHA do?

While the primary and most visible function of OSHA involves setting and enforcing workforce safety standards, the agency’s role doesn’t end there. Part of the enforcement aspect includes sending out inspectors for onsite visits to ensure that businesses are keeping compliant with OSHA regulations. OSHA also maintains a database of workplace injuries and accidents, and requires employers to record and report all qualifying incidents. The agency is also a key resource for health and safety education in the workplace, offering a variety of free training and certification programs and videos for employers. Finally, OSHA partners with individual states to fine-tune state and local safety programs and ensure that their efforts are up to federal standards.

How has OSHA dealt with COVID-19?

Health and safety concerns are playing an even bigger role in the workplace than ever in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As both employers and employees have scrambled to adapt to a range of unexpected changes, many have looked to OSHA for guidance. The agency released a detailed plan titled “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.” This document lays out step by step guidelines for mitigating risk in a variety of workforces, as well as directions for recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths, tips for helping employees with COVID screenings and testing, protecting potential whistleblowers, providing equal treatment to employees who have and have not received vaccinations, and more. These directives provide exceptional guidance for employers across a wide range of industries.

What are the penalties for OSHA violations?

While OSHA is not the only government entity employers need to be mindful of when it comes to health and safety, it is both one of the most visible and one of the most essential. It’s also potentially one of the most costly – the maximum penalty for noncompliance is $13,653 per violation, and that fine can be re-levied daily for employers who don’t fix issues within an allotted timeframe. Willful or repeated violations are even pricier, coming in at $136,532 per violation.

Compliance isn’t just a matter of avoiding fines, either. In an era of increased concerns about workplace health and safety, being able to demonstrate a clean record of OSHA compliance can bolster a company’s reputation, help to attract quality hires, and boost confidence and morale amongst existing employees. Every human resources department owes it to themselves and their company’s employees to make themselves familiar with the regulations and guidelines that apply to their organization. In an age of unprecedented health concerns, that type of education is a responsibility no one can afford to take lightly.

Learn more about how automating your human resources functions with Ascentis HRIS software can help your organization with OSHA regulations and other applicable laws.