Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA’s role has been to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. OSHA has the authority to enforce standards developed under the Act, assist and encourage States in their efforts to carry out such conditions. Working under the Department of Labor, OSHA provides research, information, education and training, focusing on keeping America’s workers safe.
Through the years, the role of OSHA has been diverse, but here are some of the changes in industrial safety standards brought about in past years:
- Making sure there are guards on moving parts of machinery.
- Permissible exposure limits to hazardous chemicals.
- Confined space regulations.
- Lockout/Tagout procedures.
- Workers’ exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
- Safety restrictions when involved with excavations and trenches.
- Asbestos exposure standards.
- Using Personal Protective Equipment, as required.
According to Hilda Solis, current United States Secretary of Labor, “We are strengthening our efforts to be vigilant in protecting the rights and safety of workers by hiring additional enforcement personnel, and revising and improving our regulatory efforts.” Employers would be wise to take note of the following current considerations being addressed by OSHA:
- If the Protected American Workers Act (now pending before Congress) passes, there will be enhanced civil and criminal penalties, changes in abatement requirements, expansion of victims’ rights, and revision to whistleblower structure. This may result in significant repercussions for American employers.
- The national employer record program was announced by OSHA on October 1, 2009, requiring more scrutiny of the company’s ability to properly prepare OSHA logs, reporting workplace incidents, injuries and illnesses.
- Another mandate from OSHA is requiring uniformity in the language of ALL settlement agreements- language that uses the settlement process as a way to get employers to agree to undertake more obligations.
- OSHA issued a final rule allowing citations be given employers on a “per employee basis” for failure to wear/use required Personal Protective Equipment.
- On April 29, 2009, OSHA announced it would initiate rulemaking on combustible dust hazards.
- The issue of ergonomic hazards will be revisited by the Obama administration.
- OSHA is seeking to align its Hazardous Communication Standard with the provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized Standard of Classifying and Labeling of Chemicals.
While employers face many challenges in their daily operations, the safety and well-being of their employees should come first. Organized safety meetings, planning, hazard assessments, risk management, and ensuring compliance are just part of the steps to be taken to create a safe work environment. In the event of a company mishap, OSHA will be knocking on the door to make sure that all safety policies and procedures were followed.