OSHA standards are proven guidelines for providing a safe, hazard-free workplace. provide a safe, hazard-free workplace. Always posted for free on the OSHA website under Laws and Regulations, the standards may also be found as printable (.PDF) summaries, or digests, on the Publications page.
Laws, Regulations, and Interpretations Overview
Laws in the context of OSHA refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which became law in 1970 and which created OSHA, and the laws contained within that act, which all pertain to occupational health and safety.
OSHA regulations (or standards) are the regulatory requirements OSHA has developed to serve as criteria to test whether employers are adhering to the laws in the OSH Act.
Interpretations are letters and memos written by OSHA in response to inquiries from actual employers about aspects of OSHA regulations, including enforcement. They are meant as a way to guide people when complying with OSHA regulations, but they cannot establish or revise an OSHA policy.
OSHA standards are covered under six broad categories:
General Industry Vs. Specific Industry Standards
OSHA General Industry Standards (1910) apply to every organization covered by OSHA. You must learn and abide by the standards that apply to your company and working conditions. OSHA will not hold you accountable to a standard that doesn’t apply. Call your local OSHA office or consult your Safesite success coach for help identifying which standards apply to your company. If you work in one of the 22 states with an OSHA mandated State program, state-specific regulations may apply.
In addition to being bound by general industry rules, construction, maritime, and agricultural operations have an industry-specific set of standards.
You can find all OSHA Law and Regulations on the OSHA website or you can download and print them.
What are the OSHA Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards?
OSHA PPE standards are the sets of regulations that deal specifically with PPE. These standards are found throughout the general industry and construction standards — they don’t have one dedicated section. However, OSHA provides a PPE Booklet that you can download and reference as needed.
Briefly, employers are responsible for the following when it comes to PPE:
- Performing a “hazard assessment” of the workplace to identify and control physical and health hazards, which may require PPE.
- Identifying and providing appropriate PPE for employees.
- Training employees to use and care for PPE.
- Maintaining PPE, including replacing worn or damaged PPE.
- Periodically reviewing, updating and evaluating the effectiveness of their PPE program.
Generally speaking, in terms of PPE, employees should:
- Properly wear PPE. Attend PPE training sessions.
- Care for, clean and maintain PPE.
- Inform a supervisor of the need to repair or replace PPE.
What are the OSHA Safety Meeting requirements?
There are safety training requirements dispersed throughout the regulations, but regular safety meetings may or may not be a required part of your safety training program.
With the exception of electric utilities, there is no OSHA regulation that specifically covers safety meeting frequency, length, and topic. However, some states do have requirements that must be followed. It is important that employers know the state-specific regulations in all the states they operate in.
OSHA safety training standards are typically task or hazard-specific and are therefore dispersed throughout the regulations.
Recent Changes & Additions
Like all laws and government regulations, OSHA’s standards sometimes change and sometimes new interpretations are handed down. OSHA updates its website regularly. Updates are announced via news release post and email newsletter, and you can search past updates by year or by category.
Inspections & Enforcement
The main way OSHA enforces regulations is with inspections performed by compliance safety and health officers who are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals.
Normally, OSHA will not announce an inspection before it happens, but employers do have the right to require compliance officers to identify themselves and/or obtain a warrant prior to an inspection. The complete inspection process is outlined in a video produced by OSHA.
Often, the main goal of an inspection is to investigate employee complaints of unsafe work conditions. OSHA inspections follow a hierarchy based on what type of workplace hazard has been brought to the agency’s attention. The hierarchy is:
- Imminent danger situations – where there is almost certainly going to be a bad incident at some point if nothing is done.
- Severe injuries and illnesses – where there has already been a bad injury or bout of illness.
- Worker complaints – where a worker has brought something to OSHA’s attention, but it is not an imminent threat.
- Referrals – where a workplace is referred to OSHA by a third party.
- Targeted inspections – in some high hazard industries and/or workplaces.
- Follow-up inspections – where a workplace has been inspected previously and OSHA wants to ensure it has followed all recommendations.
OSHA has two different types of inspections that it performs:
- Phone/Fax – An OSHA representative will call the employer, detail allegations that have been expressed and then fax over a list of the alleged hazards. The employer has to respond within five business days detailing what has been done to correct the hazards.
- In-person – An OSHA representative will show up on-site to conduct an inspection that consists of:
- Preparation by reviewing the workplace’s inspection history.
- Presentation of credentials by the OSHA employee.
- Opening conference where the OSHA rep explains what will happen.
- Walkaround where the OSHA rep checks for hazards in the workplace.
- Closing conference where the OSHA rep discusses the findings with the employer and employee representatives.
These inspections can result in citations and fines for the employer.
What if You Aren’t OSHA Compliant?
If you are not OSHA compliant, you may be putting your employees at risk of injury, or illness, or worse. OSHA standards are meant to create the safest possible working environment and if you are not following them, your workplace might not be as safe as it could be. Workers are more likely to file an anonymous safety and health complaint if they are experiencing unsafe conditions.
If OSHA finds that you are not in compliance with its standards, you risk receiving citations from the agency that can result in hefty fines and a hit to your company’s reputation. People likely will not want to work at a company that does not put a priority on safety.
Employees can register safety and health complaints on the OSHA website or by calling their local OSHA office. OSHA will not reveal the identity of the complainant to their employer.
OSHA evaluates each complaint it receives to determine the best way to handle each one. If a worker makes a complaint and wants an in-person inspection, they must submit a request in writing to an OSHA office.
At least one of the below criteria must be fulfilled for OSHA to conduct an in-person inspection.
- A written complaint signed by a current employee or employee representative that contains enough detail to enable OSHA to determine that a violation or danger is likely to exist that threatens physical harm or that an imminent danger exists in the workplace.
- An allegation that physical harm has occurred on-site as a result of the hazard and that the hazard still exists.
- A report of imminent danger in the workplace.
- A complaint about a company in an industry covered by one of OSHA’s local or national emphasis programs or a hazard targeted by one of these programs.
- Inadequate response from an employer who has received information on the hazard through a phone/fax investigation.
- A complaint against an employer with a past history of egregious, willful or failure-to-abate OSHA citations within the past three years.
- Referral from a whistleblower investigator.
- Complaint at a facility scheduled for or already undergoing an OSHA inspection.
An employee representative (either via the workers’ union or chosen by the workers if no union is involved) has the right to accompany an inspector while they are conducting an inspection. Any employee has the right to talk with an inspector confidentially. Workers are encouraged to inform the inspector of any concerns they may have.
After either type of inspection has been conducted, OSHA will share the findings, including penalties and actions undertaken, with the person who made the complaint. Copies of citations must also be posted at or near the site of violations so all workers can be informed of the hazard and what was done to fix it.
For a phone/fax inspection, an employer must fix the issues identified within five days. Because of OSHA’s hierarchy of complaints, there is no average time for dealing with them. Imminent danger complaints will be dealt with first and then others in the order of importance.
If an employer receives an OSHA complaint, they should immediately fix any issues identified within the complaint.
What Happens if You Receive a Whistleblower Complaint?
A Whistleblower Complaint is not the same thing as a regular Safety and Health Complaint, which is when an employee alerts OSHA to a workplace hazard that exists because the company is not following OSHA standards.
A Whistleblower Complaint can be filed when an employee has made a regular Safety and Health Complaint and the employer has threatened or retaliated against them in some way, such as firing or demoting them. If an employer retaliates against an employee for making a complaint, that employee can then file a Whistleblower Complaint and the company will then be investigated (not inspected) by OSHA.
Whistleblower Complaints set off a completely different series of actions and there is an entirely separate website dedicated to the investigative process and how to avoid these types of complaints. The easiest way to avoid a Whistleblower Complaint is to be OSHA compliant, fix any hazards that you are aware of, and avoid retaliating against an employee if they make a general Safety and Health Complaint to OSHA.
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