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Workplace Safety: OSHA and OSH Act Overview

Employees have the right to a safe workplace, free of known dangers to themselves and their co-workers. The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is a federal agency responsible for establishing health standards and ensuring the safety of America's workforce. OSHA plays a crucial role in setting and enforcing standards to maintain safe working conditions across both private sector and public sector industries.

Employee Rights Under OSHA and the OSH Act

The primary law covering worker safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The primary goal of this federal law is to reduce workplace hazards and implement job safety and health programs for both employers and their employees. The OSH Act and related OSHA regulations give employees the rights to:

  • Get clear training and information in layman's terms on the hazards of their workplace, ways to avoid harm, and applicable OSHA standards and laws
  • Obtain and review documentation on workplace injuries and illnesses at the worksite
  • Confidentially make a complaint with OSHA to have a workplace inspection
  • Accompany and take part in a requested OSHA workplace inspection, if desired
  • Get copies of any tests done to measure workplace hazards (e.g., chemical, air, and similar testing)
  • Not be retaliated against in any way for making OSHA-related complaints or inquiries

In addition to these worker rights, there are several employer responsibilities to maintain a safe work environment.

Employers' Obligations Under the OSH Act

Under the OSH Act and OSHA guidelines, employers have obligations to:

  • Provide a safe workplace free of serious hazards
  • Find safety and health hazards
  • Eliminate or minimize hazards if they exist
  • Provide employees with adequate safeguards and personal protective equipment at no cost if workplace hazards can't be eliminated
  • Notify employees of any workplace health hazards and provide the training necessary to address them
  • Post a list of OSHA injuries and citations, plus the OSHA poster somewhere employees will see them
  • Maintain records of work-related injuries

Workplace Hazards and OSHA Inspections

If an employer doesn't address a workplace hazard that has been brought to its attention, an employee should contact an OSHA area office or state office via a written complaint. There are ways to do this anonymously. But the law prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against safety whistleblowers.

Once the report is made, OSHA or its local government counterpart will determine whether there are reasonable grounds for believing there is a violation or danger. If so, the agency at issue will conduct an inspection and report its findings to the employer and employee representatives. The agency will also list any steps that need to be taken to correct safety and health issues.

Questions About OSHA and OSH Act? Talk to a Lawyer

Ensuring workplace safety is crucial. Government agencies, including OSHA, play a vital role in regulating and enforcing safer work practices. If you encounter workplace safety concerns, you should consult with a local employment law attorney. They can provide guidance on OSHA regulations and workers' compensation. They can also address any issues related to occupational injuries at your place of employment.

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