Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

Definition

The term Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) refers to a system of rules that attempt to provide employees with a workplace that is free from hazards.  OSHA protects workers from conditions that could adversely affect their health by controlling exposure to chemicals, mechanical dangers, and unsanitary conditions.

Explanation

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 guarantees employers will provide their employees with a workplace that is free from hazardous conditions.  Most employers fall under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency responsible for assuring safe working conditions as well as training and education.  The Act covers private employers in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.  Generally, self-employed workers do not fall under OSHA's jurisdiction.

The provisions of OSHA also established a series of workers' rights, including:

  • Working conditions that do not pose the risk of serious harm.
  • Requesting OSHA to inspect their workplace.
  • Receiving information and training about workplace hazards and the methods used to prevent injury or illness.
  • Obtaining copies of any assessments performed to determine if a workplace hazard exists.
  • Reviewing records of workplace illnesses and injuries.
  • Obtaining copies of their medical records.

Ultimately, employers are responsible for providing a workplace that is free from hazards.  OSHA also requires employers to:

  • Inform employees about hazards through training as well as methods that include labeling of materials and equipment.
  • Keep accurate records of all work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Notify OSHA (within 8 hours) of a workplace death or whenever three or more employees go to the hospital for work-related injuries.
  • Conduct workplace testing such as air sampling.
  • Administer hearing examinations and other medical tests.

While state and federal workers do not fall directly under OSHA's jurisdiction, they are held to similar workplace standards.  Finally, OSHA prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against an employee if they exercise their rights under the law.

Related Terms

Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Employment Opportunity, USERRA, whistleblower