What Is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) authorizes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct inspections at worksites within its jurisdiction to enforce the safety and health laws promulgated pursuant to the OSH Act. With the U.S. Senate still not confirming President Trump’s nomination of Scott Mugno as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, we do not yet know the future direction of OSHA’s enforcement strategy. Thus, for now, it is best to assume no change in direction.

With only approximately 2,200 enforcement officers nationally, OSHA has limited resources to cover millions of workplaces under its jurisdiction. Accordingly, OSHA has been using inspections and citations to enforce both general duty requirements and specific safety standards. (Under the General Duty Clause (29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(2)), all employers must provide employees a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”)

When Do You Have to Call OSHA?

Employers must notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. Employers must report fatalities within 8 hours and work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye within 24 hours.

When Might OSHA Show Up?

According to OSHA guidance, the agency focuses its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:

  1. Imminent danger situations—hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm”;
  2. Severe injuries and illnesses that employers have reported to OSHA;
  3. Worker Complaints—allegations of hazards or violations,” which may be anonymous;
  4. Referrals of hazards from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media”;
  5. Targeted inspections—inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses”; and
  6. Follow-up inspections—checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections.”

What Are OSHA’s Penalties?

According to OSHA’s website, the penalty amounts adjusted for inflation as of January 2, 2018 are as follows:

  • $12,934 for serious, other-than-serious, and posting requirements violations.
  • $12,934 per day beyond the abatement date for failure to abate violations.
  • $129,336 per each willful or repeat violation.

Other critical factors are also at stake. Citations may result in loss of business, poor morale, and future repeat or willful citations if problems are not corrected.