What Is OSHA and How Do They Protect Workers

Alex Kehayias | Jun 6, 2024

What Is OSHA and How Do They Protect Workers

Whether you’re grabbing coffee during a break or scrolling through your newsfeed, conversations about workplace safety seem to be everywhere. From high-profile accidents to discussions around employee well-being, it’s clear — safe working conditions are a top priority.

But with so much information (and sometimes misinformation) swirling around, getting a clear picture of your workplace safety obligations can be tough.

That’s where OSHA comes in. OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Think of it as the workplace safety rulebook for the United States.

Founded to tackle rising workplace injury and fatality rates, OSHA is dedicated to protecting worker safety in companies across the country. Let’s explore this cornerstone of workplace safety.

When Was OSHA Created?

Federal OSHA wasn’t always around. It was born out of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The OSH Act was a landmark piece of legislation in Congress signed by President Nixon. As part of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), OSHA has a broad reach.

Their rules and health standards cover most private-sector employers, their workers, and some public-sector employers. So, what’s at the heart of OSHA’s mission? It’s all about ensuring safe and healthy on-site working conditions.

OSHA does this in three key ways:

  1. Setting Standards: They establish safety guidelines tailored to different industries, outlining the “do’s and don’ts” of workplace safety (think hard hats on construction sites, safety guards on machinery, etc.).

  2. Education and Assistance: OSHA provides resources, guidance, and training to empower businesses and workers to understand and comply with job safety standards.

  3. Enforcement: OSHA investigates workplace accidents, responds to safety complaints, and conducts inspections to hold employers accountable for upholding a safe workplace.

OSHA might seem like just another acronym in the alphabet soup of federal government agencies. But behind those four letters lies a commitment forged over decades — a commitment to protecting workers.

By setting the bar for workplace safety, offering guidance to employers, and ensuring accountability when those standards aren’t met, OSHA plays an important role in making workplaces safer every day.

What Does OSHA Do?

Think of OSHA as the workplace safety rule maker. They don’t just pull these rules out of thin air, though. OSHA’s standards result from careful research, expert input, and a lot of focus on real-world dangers in various industries. These rules are designed to prevent work-related accidents, injuries, and worse.

Let’s break down some of the ways OSHA does this:

Sets and Enforces Standards

OSHA develops detailed safety standards that apply to specific workplaces. Let’s use a construction site as an example.

There, you’ll find things like:

  • Hard hats
  • Fall protection gear
  • Secure scaffolding
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Good ideas, certainly, but more than that, they are OSHA requirements. OSHA isn’t afraid to enforce these standards, either. They can inspect worksites — sometimes prompted by reports of danger, worker complaints, or an accident. If they find violations, employers can face citations and hefty fines.

Inspections and Investigations

OSHA acts as a watchdog for workplace safety. They respond to imminent danger reports, where workers could be seriously harmed if a problem isn’t fixed quickly. Workers are empowered to speak up, too — filing complaints to trigger OSHA inspections when things don’t feel safe.

Even workplace accidents and fatalities are investigated by OSHA to understand the cause and prevent future tragedies. OSHA also targets high-risk industries like manufacturing and construction for proactive inspections.

Employer Assistance and Education

OSHA does much more than simply catch people doing things wrong. They provide many resources to help businesses get safety right on their own. There’s guidance on complying with standards, OSHA training materials, and even partnerships available for employers who want to go above and beyond the basics. “While employers, supervisors, and employees might find some of the education a distraction from their work, it is crucial for job site safety. In some cases, the common sense training and material could be the difference between life and death for individuals working in dangerous settings,” highlights Taylor Fike, Partner at Fike Advisors and Expert Contributor for Mosey.

Whistleblower Protection

OSHA has workers’ backs. No worker should fear losing their job or facing retaliation for reporting a safety concern. OSHA’s whistleblower protection program gives workers peace of mind, knowing they have a place to voice their concerns without fear.

It’s important to remember that OSHA is a federal agency. Many states have their own OSHA-approved programs with similar (and sometimes stricter) safety standards. Knowing both federal and state-level rules is key for businesses operating across state lines.

What Is OSHA’s Impact?

OSHA goes beyond rules and regulations. The true test of their work lies in the results. Over the decades, OSHA has played a key role in making American workplaces safer.

Workplace fatalities have been slashed, and injury rates have significantly declined. That translates to countless lives saved, and families spared unimaginable heartbreak.

However, OSHA’s influence goes beyond preventing tragedies:

Promoting a Culture of Responsibility

OSHA standards have created an environment where employers are actively thinking about safety. No longer is it a matter of avoiding fines. Now, OSHA directly makes worker safety a fundamental part of the company culture.

Businesses provide safety training, invest in protective equipment, and actively identify and address workplace hazards before they cause harm.

Financial and Reputational Costs of Non-Compliance

Sometimes, the bottom line speaks louder than anything else. OSHA citations and fines can be hefty, creating a financial incentive for businesses to take safety seriously.

Plus, no company wants the negative publicity of a major OSHA violation. It can harm their reputation with customers, investors, and even potential employees.

OSHA’s constant vigilance, combined with a clear set of standards, helps to shape a safer workplace landscape across America. Businesses are held accountable, worker injuries are prevented, and an overall culture of safety takes root. That’s something we can all get behind.

What Does an OSHA Partnership Look Like?

At its core, partnering with OSHA is about shared responsibility. Think about a busy work environment. From the C-suite to the shop floor, everyone has a role to play when it comes to safety. It’s a team effort, with OSHA setting the playbook and everyone else executing it day-to-day.

Here’s what that partnership looks like in practice:

Employer Responsibilities

OSHA regulations serve as a constantly evolving safety guidebook. It’s great to know the rules when you start the game, but staying competitive means keeping up with the rule changes.

That’s why staying informed about OSHA standards is a top priority for responsible employers. This knowledge gives you the foundation for a safe and compliant workplace.

Staying Informed

OSHA standards can change, regulations get updated, and new hazard guidance can be released. Employers need to stay in the know about what applies to their business, especially those operating across state lines. Checking OSHA’s website (osha.gov), subscribing to updates, and even working with safety consultants are all smart moves.

Training and Resources

OSHA doesn’t expect workers to magically know proper safety protocols. Employers hold the key here. They must provide training on everything from using heavy machinery safely to properly handling hazardous material. Plus, the right safety gear — think hard hats, gloves, eye protection — needs to be readily available.

Addressing Hazards and Open Communication

Spotted a frayed electrical cord? Tripping hazard on the floor? Employers need to move quickly to fix those problems. Fostering a workplace culture where workers feel comfortable speaking up about safety concerns without fear of retribution is essential.

Proactive safety management isn’t a one-time thing. Staying OSHA-compliant is about being alert, adaptable, and responsive. When employers make safety a core part of their business, they build trust with their employees, improve productivity, and commit to doing things the right way. Everyone wins in a workplace where safety takes center stage.

Worker Rights

Workers have an essential role to play in identifying safety hazards — it’s a key part of their job. OSHA recognizes this by giving workers clear rights and ensuring their safety concerns are heard.

Reporting Unsafe Conditions

If a situation feels risky, workers have the right to file a report with OSHA directly. These reports can help prevent accidents by triggering inspections.

Participating in Inspections

OSHA inspections can be stressful for employers, but for workers, they’re a chance to communicate directly with OSHA representatives. Workers help inspectors understand the full picture of the worksite’s safety situation.

Seeking OSHA Resources and Protection

OSHA offers a wealth of information online and through local offices to help workers stay informed. They can answer questions about safety standards, clarify training requirements, and protect workers who speak up about safety concerns.

OSHA compliance means you’re adhering to regulations while protecting your most valuable asset — your workers. A truly successful business understands that a safe workplace is also a productive and positive place to grow.

How Does OSHA Impact Your Business?

As your business expands — whether it’s adding that second location or hiring across state lines — keeping up with OSHA regulations can get overwhelming, fast. Startups and mid-sized businesses are often juggling growth goals with tight resources.

Keeping track of safety rules across multiple states can feel like a constant headache, especially for teams without a dedicated safety expert.

That’s where OSHA presents a unique challenge. Remember, it’s a federal agency, but many states also have their own OSHA-approved state plans with additional or stricter rules.

OSHA compliance involves more than simply knowing the federal standards. You also need to understand how those rules vary across states. This is because getting this wrong can expose your business to fines and damage its reputation.

Why Is OSHA Compliance a Smart Investment?

Some businesses view OSHA compliance as another expense, a drain on resources when budgets are already tight. But here’s a fresh perspective: See OSHA compliance as a smart business investment that yields returns far greater than just avoiding fines.

Consider these benefits:

Reduced Risk of Accidents and Injuries

By fostering a strong safety culture, OSHA compliance can significantly reduce workplace accidents and injuries. Correct recordkeeping translates to lower healthcare insurance costs, fewer operational disruptions, and higher employee morale. Remember, state-approved OSHA plans often have their own additional guidelines to consider.

Positive Work Environment

When workers feel safe, they’re more likely to be engaged, productive, and loyal. A company with a track record of strong safety compliance attracts top talent and reduces employee turnover.

Enhanced Reputation

A large or small business known for prioritizing safety commands respect. Customers, partners, and the wider community recognize this commitment. In a competitive marketplace, this strong reputation can solidify business relationships and open doors to new opportunities.

OSHA compliance goes beyond protecting your workers by strengthening your business from the inside out. That’s something every organization should be able to get behind.

How To Get Started with OSHA Compliance

Feeling overwhelmed by OSHA regulations? You’re not alone. But remember, even small steps make a big impact on workplace safety.

Here’s how to get the ball rolling:

Know Your Responsibilities

Start with the source — OSHA’s website is packed with resources. Dive into general industry-specific sections to understand how federal standards apply to your business. Pay special attention to whether your state or local government has an OSHA-approved plan with its own regulations.

Conduct a Self-Audit

Look at your workplace with a critical eye. Walk through your facility, identify potential hazards, and compare your current safety practices against OSHA requirements. Document your findings so you have a clear starting point.

Prioritize Training

Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge. Make mandatory safety training a non-negotiable for everyone, from new hires to top management. Utilize OSHA’s free and low-cost training resources to cover topics like hazard communication, labor law posters, workplace safety procedures, and equipment operation.

Look for Partners

A platform like Mosey can simplify business and corporate compliance by flagging key updates and monitoring your state’s rules. For multifaceted situations, consider hiring a safety consultant to provide tailored guidance and help fill any knowledge gaps.

Remember, OSHA compliance is a journey, not a sprint. Demonstrating a clear commitment to workplace safety is what matters most — not just to regulatory agencies like OSHA but also to the heart of your business and the well-being of your employees.

Mosey Keeps You Compliant by State

From construction sites to manufacturing floors, OSHA is important in safeguarding workers across America. Their ongoing work in setting and enforcing workplace safety standards has made a tangible difference in reducing accidents and preventing injuries.

However, OSHA doesn’t do it alone. Responsible businesses are key partners in making this mission a reality. Dig deeper into OSHA’s website if you’re ready to take your OSHA compliance to the next level.

It’s your best source for industry-specific resources, training program materials, and updates on the latest safety regulations. Want to streamline OSHA compliance, especially if you’re operating in multiple states and jurisdictions?

A platform like Mosey can provide the clarity and automation your team needs on state and local compliance. Book a demo with Mosey today and discover how our compliance management platform makes compliance easier, giving you the peace of mind to focus on growing your business safely.

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