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13.1: Workplace Safety and Health Laws

  • Page ID
    8292
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Be able to explain OSHA laws.
    2. Understand right-to-know laws.

    Workplace safety is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. HR professionals and managers, however, play a large role in developing standards, making sure safety and health laws are followed, and tracking workplace accidents. Section 13.1.1 “Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laws” addresses workplace laws as they relate to safety.

    Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laws

    In 2009 (the most recent data available at the time of this writing), 4,340 fatalities and 3.3 million injuries were reported1. This staggering number represents not only the cost to employees’ well-being but also financial and time costs to the company. This is why health and safety is a key component of any human resource management (HRM) strategic plan.

    What Is OSHA About?

    (click to see video)

    A short video on the purpose of OSHA.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), passed in 1970, created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees health and safety in the workplace. The organization’s mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. For example, OSHA offers ten- and thirty-hour courses on workplace hazards and also provides assistance to ensure companies are in compliance with standards. OSHA is part of the US Department of Labor, with the main administrator being the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. This person reports to the labor secretary, who is a member of the president’s cabinet.

    Although OSHA applies to all companies, health and safety standards are specifically mentioned for the following types of businesses:

    1. Construction
    2. Shipyard
    3. Marine terminals

    Although OSHA standards may appear to apply only to companies in production, manufacturing, or construction, even companies with primarily an office function are required to abide by the laws set by OSHA. Examples (not at all an exhaustive list) of the types of safety laws (for all types of businesses) that are overseen by OSHA are as follows:

    1. Regulations on walking/working surfaces. According to OSHA, slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents and 15 percent of all accidental deaths. The standards apply to all permanent places of employment. The provision says that “all passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly. Every floor and working space shall be kept free of protruding nails, splinters, holes, or loose boards.” These are a few examples included in this provision.
    2. Means of egress (exiting), which includes emergency evacuation plans. “Every building or structure shall be arranged and maintained as to provide free and unobstructed egress from all part of the buildings. No lock or fastening to prevent free escape from inside the building should be installed (except in penal or corrective institutions).” The provision also says that exits shall be marked by a visible sign.
    3. Occupational noise exposure. “Protection against the effects of noise exposure shall be provided when the sound levels reach a specified level. Controls should be used to control the sound, and protective equipment should be provided.”
    4. Hazardous handling of materials. OSHA regulates exposure to four hundred substances and requires communication about the possible chemical hazards to employees.
    5. Protective equipment, such as eye, face, and respiratory protection. OSHA requires the use of personal protective equipment to reduce employee exposure to hazards. For example, head protection is required when workers are in an area where there is potential for falling, and eye and face protection is required when workers are exposed to eye or face hazards such as flying particles and molten metal.
    6. Sanitation. Some examples of these OSHA requirements include the following: Potable water should be provided in all places of employment. Vermin control is required in all enclosed workplaces. Toilet facilities must be provided, separate for each sex. The number of toilets provided depends on the number of employees.
    7. Requirement of first aid supplies on-site. First aid kits are mandatory and should include gauze pads, bandages, gauze roller bandages, and other required items.
    8. Standards for fire equipment. Fire extinguishers are required to be on-site for use by employees, unless there is a written fire policy that requires the immediate and total evacuation of employees.
    9. Standards for machine guards and other power tools. Moving machine parts require safeguards (depending upon the industry) to prevent crushed fingers, hands, amputations, burns, or blindness. Safeguards might include a guard attached to the machine.
    10. Electrical requirements and standards. OSHA electrical standards are designed to protect employees from electric shock, fires, and explosions. Electrical protective devices are required to cover wiring. OSHA also addresses the installation of electrical wiring.
    11. Commercial diving operation requirements. OSHA provides information on the safety aspects of commercial diving such as pre- and postdive procedures, mixed-gas diving, and necessary qualifications of the dive team.

    HR professionals and managers should have a good understanding of these laws and make sure, no matter which industry, that all these standards are followed in the workplace. These standards are normally part of the overall strategic HRM plan of any organization and are even more crucial to organizations involved in manufacturing.

    There exist many examples of OSHA violations. For example, in a Queensbury, Pennsylvania, Dick’s Sporting Goods store, OSHA found six violations, including blocked access to a fire extinguisher and workers’ entering a trash compactor with the power supply on. Dick’s was fined $57,300 by OSHA and told it had fifteen days to comply or contest the findings (Churchill, 2011).

    The Most Frequently Violated and Cited OSHA Standards

    1. 1926.451—Scaffolding
    2. 1926.501—Fall Protection
    3. 1910.1200—Hazard Communication
    4. 1910.134—Respiratory Protection
    5. 1926.1053—Ladders
    6. 1910.147—Lockout/Tagout
    7. 1910.305—Electrical, Wiring Methods
    8. 1910.178—Powered Industrial Trucks
    9. 1910.303—Electrical, General Requirements
    10. 1910.212—Machine Guarding