Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their employees. Over the past few decades several health and safety laws have been passed to ensure the safety of workers and protect them from hazards in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide a workplace that is free of hazards and to comply with occupational safety and health standards. Congress created the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to enforce these standards and to provide information on safety and health, training and assistance to employers and workers.
Workers in both the public and private sectors are covered by an OSHA Regional Office under federal supervision or by an OSHA program operated by their state. Twenty-three states operate state OSHA programs and they must be as effective as the federal program and provide similar protections for workers. All states conduct inspections and respond to worker complaints. The states also provide additional health and safety services such as on-site consultation for small businesses.
OSHA grants workers important rights and they have a vital role to play in the identification and correction of workplace problems. Often, once notified of a hazardous condition, an employer will correct it promptly. An employee can complain about conditions that are threatening health or safety. Complaints can be filed in person, by telephone, by fax, by mail or electronically through the OSHA website.
OSHA requires workers to comply with all safety and health standards that apply to their actions on the job. Employees should:
- Follow their employer's safety and health rules and use or wear all required gear and equipment.
- Read the OSHA poster.
- Follow safe work practices for the job and follow the employer's rules.
- Report hazardous conditions to a supervisor or safety committee.
- Report hazardous conditions to OSHA if the employer does not correct them.
- Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer and seek treatment promptly.
- Exercise rights under OSHA in a responsible manner.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthy environment free of any recognized hazards. The employer's responsibilities also include providing training, medical examinations, and record keeping.
OSHA issues standards which are rules to protect workers against many on-the-job hazards. These standards:
- Require the use of certain safety practices and equipment
- Require employers to monitor hazards and maintain records of workplace injuries and illnesses
- Limit the amount of hazardous chemicals employees can be exposed to.
If an employer does not comply with OSHA standards, he can be cited and fined. An employer can also be cited under OSHA's General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards. This clause is usually cited when there is no specific OSHA standard which applies to the hazard.
OSHA has taken many steps to ensure workplace safety but the cooperation of all employees is also necessary in maintaining a safe and productive environment.