The Occupational Safety and Health Administration - better known as OSHA - was established 42 years ago. Its core mandate is to ensure the safety and health of US workers. Since its inception, OSHA has made significant, positive impacts on worker health and safety. For example, workplace fatalities have dropped from an average of 40 per day in the 1960's to an average of about 12 per day. Occupational injury and illness rates have been reduced by about 40% over the same time frame.
These statistics are impressive, especially when you consider OSHA's staffing and funding situation. For example, about 2,200 OSHA inspectors cover approximately 7 million workplaces. This means that there is 1 OSHA inspector for every 59,000 US workers. In addition, OSHA's budget of $564 million pales in comparison with the Food and Drug Administration's budget of about $4 billion and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget of $7.9 billion.
OSHA is probably best known for its rulemaking and inspection activities. In fact, over 100 safety and health standards have been published over the course of the last 42 years. The standards range in topic from emergency action plans to noise exposures to bloodborne pathogens. New standards are always being developed. For example, OSHA is currently working on a standard for respirable exposures to crystalline silica.
OSHA inspectors and OSHA-approved state inspectors conducted 92,000 inspections in the fiscal year 2012. OSHA uses a prioritized approach in determining which workplaces are inspected, with the highest priority going to imminent danger situations, followed by fatalities and catastrophes, complaints, referrals, follow-ups, and planned or programmed inspections.
This last category of inspections covers those OSHA initiatives aimed at specific industries or specific hazards. Recent National Emphasis Programs have targeted isocyanates, primary metal industries, and hexavalent chromium. It's important to remember that OSHA inspections are conducted without advance notice.
OSHA also provides training and education and has many outreach and assistance programs. It conducts 10- and 30-hour training sessions for employers and workers in construction, maritime, and general industry. It also offers training to industrial hygiene and safety professionals. Handouts and other educational tools are also available on OSHA's website.
OSHA encourages all businesses, but especially small businesses, to request compliance assistance and/or join one of the many cooperative programs aimed at improving employee safety and health. Free, confidential, on-site consultations can be conducted by professionals supplied by your state government. In addition, programs such as the Alliance Program, OSHA Challenge, Strategic Partnership Program, and Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) form partnerships between OSHA and your business/trade group which work proactively to identify and reduce safety and health risks.
It's important to note that these programs are completely separate from OSHA's inspection activities. In fact, participation in many of these programs exempts your company from inspection and certain enforcement actions. In addition, OSHA's Non-Retaliation Policy states that "Contacts for technical information initiated by employers or their representatives will not trigger an inspection, nor will such employer inquiries protect the requesting employer against inspections conducted pursuant to existing policy, scheduling guidelines and inspection programs established by the Agency."
Speaking of enforcement, companies found to be in violation of an OSHA standard safety or health standard are issued citations which describe the alleged violations, list proposed penalties, if any, and set a deadline for correcting the violations. OSHA classifies violations as other-than-serious, serious, willful, repeated, and failure to abate. Penalties vary but can be as high as $7000 for a serious violation and $70,000 for a willful or repeated violation. Contrary to what some people believe, penalty payments are deposited in the US Treasury. OSHA is not funded by the penalties that it charges.
Which OSHA Standards apply to your company? Do the National Emphasis Programs cover your business or a hazard that you handle? Do you comply with all applicable OSHA Standards? Cashins & Associates can help you evaluate your compliance status. Click on the link below for a free inquiry.