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February 28, 2005
OSHA: What Your Employees Should Know

OSHA is not an adversary. One of the ultimate goals of safety training is to build and sustain a "safety culture" throughout your organization. It's hard to do this if you project an "Us versus Them" attitude toward OSHA. It's even harder if you convey the feeling that the main reason for promoting health and safety in the workplace is to avoid an OSHA citation. Instead, focus on the concept of "partnership" among the employer, employees, and OSHA--that each has certain roles and responsibilities in ensuring a safe and healthy workplace and that it is in everyone's best interests to work together for safety.

What should employees be told about OSHA? Generally, the answer is, "Anything they want to know." Under the OSH Act, employers have an affirmative obligation to inform employees both about the law and about their rights under the law. These informational requirements include:

  • Posting the OSHA poster prominently
  • Making a copy of the OSH Act and OSHA regulations and standards available to any employee who requests them
  • Informing employees of their right to be present during an OSHA inspection
  • Informing them of their right to lodge a complaint with OSHA without fear of retribution
  • Posting any OSHA citations received by an employer
Why It Matters...
  • OSHA is increasingly emphasizing "compliance assistance" and other forms of partnership with employers, rather than simply enforcing standards by looking for violations.
  • Workers are more likely to comply with safety rules if they understand the "big picture" of workplace safety and health.
  • Though it's relatively uncommon, OSHA does cite and penalize employers who do not inform employees of their rights under the OSH Act.

There is no disadvantage to being as open as possible about OSHA and your company's relationship with it because it reinforces the sense of "partnership" you're trying to encourage.

Employees have legal responsibilities, too. Compliance with safety regulations is more than just having the government and company managers tell employees what to do.

The OSH Act specifically requires that employees comply with OSHA standards and regulations that apply to them. Point this out when you talk about the importance of following safety rules, as a reminder that "we're all in this together."

Note: Twenty-four states, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have their own Occupational Safety and Health agencies, with rules that generally follow federal OSHA standards (or, in some cases, are stricter). Adapt your discussion of OSHA to the conditions in your own state.

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