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December 10, 2007
Just What Is OSHA and How Does it Work?

OSHA's mission is to send every worker home whole and healthy every day. OSHA is a federal agency with 2,150 employees, including 1,100 inspectors, and an annual budget of nearly $500 million. Almost every working person in the nation, with a few exceptions, comes under OSHA's jurisdiction. To protect all these workers, OSHA creates and enforces standards (regulations) to improve on-the-job safety and health. OSHA standards are based on:

  • Workplace research
  • Advice from technical experts
  • The experience of employers, unions, and other interested parties

Specific OSHA standards:

  • Identify possible causes of job-related injury or illness.
  • Require and explain the procedures, equipment, and training that must be used to reduce hazards and perform jobs safely.

Here's what else OSHA does. OSHA says it's currently focusing on three strategies designed to improve workplace safety and health in America:

  • Enforcement. OSHA recognizes that the vast majority of employers want to do the right thing when it comes to workplace safety, and most of them succeed. Therefore, the agency seeks to assist those employers who that to improve safety still further, while concentrating enforcement resources on sites in the most hazardous industries--especially those with high injury and illness rates.
  • Outreach, education, and compliance assistance. OSHA's many print publications provide a wealth of safety and health information for employers and employees alike. In addition, free workplace consultations are available in every state to small businesses that want on-site help establishing safety and health programs and identifying and correcting workplace hazards. OSHA also has a network of more than 70 compliance assistance specialists in local offices available to provide employers and employees with tailored information and training.
  • Why It Matters ...
    • Since OSHA was created in 1971 following enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, the agency has helped to cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent.
    • At the same time, U.S. employment has increased from 56 million employees at 3.5 million worksites to more than 135 million employees at 8.9 million sites.
    • OSHA compliance programs offer employers the opportunity to enter into partnerships to improve workplace safety and health rather than engaging in costly and nonproductive adversarial relationships with the agency.
  • Cooperative programs. OSHA's Alliance Program enables employers, labor unions, trade or professional groups, government agencies, and educational institutions that share an interest in workplace safety and health to collaborate with OSHA to prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. In the Strategic Partnership Program, OSHA enters into long-term cooperative relationships with groups of employers, employees, and employee representatives to improve workplace safety and health. Written agreements outline efforts to eliminate serious hazards and provide ways to measure the effectiveness of a safety and health program. The Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) is designed to provide incentives and support to employers to develop, implement, and continuously improve effective safety and health programs in their workplaces. Finally, the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), a partnership program between OSHA and highly motivated employers, recognizes safety and health excellence. OSHA reports that VPP worksites save millions of dollars each year because their injury and illness rates are more than 50 percent below the averages for their industries.

To support its mission OSHA specifies safety and health rights and responsibilities. OSHA says that among other responsibilities, you must:

  • Inspect and evaluate your workplace for potential hazards.
  • Take effective steps to eliminate or minimize hazards.
  • Comply with OSHA standards and keep records of workplace injuries and illness.
  • Train employees to recognize safety and health hazards and take precautions to prevent accidents.

Employees have responsibilities, too. OSHA says employees must:

  • Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
  • Follow the organization's safety and health rules and regulations.
  • Wear assigned PPE.
  • Report hazardous conditions.
  • Report any job-related injury or illness and seeking treatment.
  • Cooperate with OSHA compliance officers conducting inspections.

And then there are employee rights as well. Employees have the right to:

  • Review copies of OSHA regulations and request information about workplace hazards, precautions, and procedures.
  • Gain access to relevant employee exposure and medical records.
  • Request an OSHA inspection if they believe hazardous conditions or violations of standards exist in the workplace.
  • Accompany an OSHA compliance officer during the inspection tour and respond to questions from the inspector.
  • Observe any monitoring or measuring of hazardous materials and see the resulting records, as specified under the OSH Act and required by OSHA standards.
  • Review your OSHA 300 Log of Work-Related Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.
  • Refuse to be exposed to the danger of death or serious physical harm.
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