As a division of the United States Department of Labor, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) oversees the safety and security of workers across the United States. The chief aim of OSHA is to ensure a safe place to work, without significant risk of illness or injury in federal and private sector positions. Gaining OSHA compliance is a complicated process for any business. A human resources manager is usually responsible for overseeing that the company is up to code. A checklist can help employers and human resources managers to identify if they are covered by OSHA, which areas of required OSHA compliance are applicable to their industry, what to expect during an inspection, how to resolve citations, how to provide proper training for employees in safety procedures, ways to protect their financial interests, and available cooperative programs.
Most categories of workers and businesses in the U.S. fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction. This includes people working in the private sector in most industries in all 50 states and U.S. territories. There are a few exceptions of businesses and industries that do not require OSHA compliance. Employees of state and local governments are not covered unless their states have an OSHA-Approved State Program. Workers in the private sector are not protected if their industries fall under the jurisdiction of another federal oversight program, such as the U.S. Department of Energy, if they are self-employed, or if they are family members of farm employers.
Areas of Compliance
Business owners and human resources managers in any industry that may subject workers to hazards must consider all areas of the daily function of the business that have the potential to cause workers illness or injury. These areas of OSHA compliance give employers a range of equipment and activities to consider for possible concerns. OSHA provides checklists, fact sheets, instructional booklets, and quick cards that employers may download and use for regular reference by managers and employees.
- Machine Guarding: Machinery has the ability to cause injuries in workers. Those who operate saws, slicers, shears and other equipment should take care to prevent potential injuries. Employers can implement protections for workers using machinery with the addition of guards that prevent workers from coming in physical contact with machine parts, and devices that will turn off a machine if a worker encounters a pinch point.
- Lockout/Tagout: The function of machinery can injure workers by exposure to energy. However, machinery can break down or malfunction, causing greater potential harm to those trying to fix the system. Employers must implement a lockout/tagout (LOTO) program that ensures employees will cut power to machinery in the event of malfunction. This allows repair personnel to perform their jobs without worrying that the machine may suddenly release energy or start moving parts during repair.
- Electricity: Employees who encounter an electrical hazard face burns, electrocution, or worse. Electricity accounts for about 5 percent of workplace fatalities. OSHA compliance requirements call for equipment to be constructed in a way that minimizes employee exposure to live wires. Employers must also consider surface materials, such as metals, that can conduct electricity, and minimize the presence of water, which also acts as a conductor. Prompt equipment repair is vital to decrease exposure.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): OSHA considers PPE to be the last resort in employee protection, because it is the last physical opportunity to avoid injury. PPE includes safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, proper footwear, gloves, vests, earplugs, and more. As an OSHA requirement, employees must be given instruction using a written training program on the proper use of PPE, correct sizing, and the importance of wearing protective gear every time.
- Respiratory Protection: Depending on the type of work, some workers must perform duties in areas with inadequate oxygen or ventilation, dust, smoke, and noxious sprays. An estimated 5 million employees in the U.S. wear some kind of respiration equipment while on the job. Like PPE, respirators are only useful if they are sized properly and used in every instance. As such, the implementation of a well-researched respiratory protection program is crucial to reducing employee exposure.
- Noise: OSHA research notes that noise-related hearing loss is the most common source of work-related injury. Just one instance of exposure to very loud noises can cause permanent hearing damage. For all work environments that produce average noise greater than 85 decibels, OSHA requires businesses to implement a hearing conservation program. This includes the use of sound-dampening earplugs or earmuffs, and regular hearing testing for employees facing regular exposure.
- Confined Spaces: There are certain areas of the workplace, construction in particular, that have employees working in confined spaces. These spaces may be in areas where people are not usually living or working, but call for workers to perform necessary maintenance or repair, and include tanks, storage bins, manholes, and ductwork. Confined spaces usually present an additional hazard, such as injury or asphyxiation. OSHA offers an online tool and flowchart to determine if companies need to create a permit-required confined spaces program.
- Bloodborne Pathogens: Any time workers are exposed to blood or other bodily fluids, there is the risk that they may develop diseases that are carried in human blood, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Employees must take great care to avoid touching blood and bodily fluids with bare skin to ensure OSHA compliance. In implementing a protection program, employers should use universal precautions under the assumption that all blood and blood products carry pathogens.
- Powered Industrial Trucks: Also known as forklifts or lift trucks, powered industrial trucks are a common source of falling load injuries and other hazards. The best line of defense is for employers to ensure that all operators of powered industrial trucks are at least 18 years old and trained in safe operating procedures, to avoid running into equipment or employees, or falling off loading docks.
Additional areas of compliance exist by the industry and state, so employers should also conduct a thorough search for industry-specific regulations prior to inspection.
Preparing for Inspection
OSHA covers approximately 7 million places of employment in the U.S. The department does not inspect them all each year. Because the goal is to identify hazards in the typical performance of daily business, OSHA inspectors usually do not notify employers of a site inspection. This underscores the need for employers to proactively address all potential hazards OSHA requires. Human resources managers can use the OSHA website to identify which standards are typically cited in particular industries, as a means to help identify likely sources of conflict. There are additional resources available for owners of small businesses. During the inspection, an OSHA compliance safety and health officer tours the facilities and notes:
- imminent dangers
- fatalities and catastrophes
- planned investigations
If there are any violations, OSHA issues a Citation and Notification of Penalty, with detailed instructions on regaining OSHA compliance.
Employers should know that they have rights during this process. If a human resources manager feels that a violation was noted in error, he or she may contest the citation. All citations must be posted in a place within employees’ view for three days, minimum. Ultimately, the goal is to resolve the problems as quickly as possible. Violations refer to specific OSHA standard numbers. OSHA also has a “quick start” tool for employers to use to identify the standards that apply to their industries, as well as the most common violations preventing OSHA compliance.
Ensuring your large or small business is OSHA compliant requires actions from two different groups. Employers must implement programs to help protect employees from dangers in the workplace. In turn, those employees must perform to those standards. Training is the only way to ensure that employees know what to do. OSHA offers a variety of training program modules, as well as 10-hour and 30-hour training programs. There are also online tools that employers can use to give workers access to information for quick reference. Programs exist to supply information and additional protection to workers for whom English is not a first language, as well as underage employees.
Gaining OSHA compliance, particularly for new businesses, can be a long and expensive process. With this understanding, OSHA directs employers to resources that help them to minimize workplace illnesses and injuries while simultaneously protecting their financial interests. The “$afety Pays” program permits users to enter profit margins and industry-specific activities, and generates reports on the costs inherent to the most common injuries in those fields. While it does not serve as an analysis of a particular business’s expenses, it does show employers how much they stand to lose by failing to provide adequate protections for employees.
OSHA Cooperative Programs
Due to the large jurisdiction of OSHA, the department maintains a number of incentive programs for businesses that demonstrate a determination to gain OSHA compliance independent of an inspection. These cooperative programs are called:
- Alliance Program
- OSHA Strategic Partnership Program
- Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP)
- OSHA Challenge Program
- Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP)
All programs encourage employers to improve worker health and safety. Some guarantee exemption from OSHA inspections for a period of time. Others grant employers with assistance in becoming OSHA compliant. Since the programs are specific to industries and business types, human resources managers should identify which ones are appropriate for them.
Safe and healthy working conditions are paramount to the security of a business. With a master of science in human resources management, graduates are well-educated on matters of regulatory compliance for workplace health and safety and are ready to help companies improve their processes. OSHA gives standards, training and inspections to businesses so that they can implement programs that ensure their employees’ safety while on the job. After consulting this checklist, human resources managers are informed on the areas of OSHA requirements, what they should do after an inspection to fix any problems, what resources are available for training, the best way to prevent hazards in the first place, and incentive programs for additional OSHA compliance.