Many organizations are helpful to business owners before opening their doors, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is at the top of the list. Under the Department of Labor’s purview, this federal organization is one of the largest regulatory agencies in the United States. It exists to ensure businesses offer a safe and healthy working environment for every employee.
There are many safety-related federal and state laws governing business operations, and OSHA conducts regular inspections to ensure businesses comply. As violations can be costly, one of the best things you can do to ensure your success and your employee’s safety is to know OSHA regulations before your first inspection.
Safety Regulations and Laws
OSHA governs federal law for business owners, and they have specialized laws regarding industries with specific risks or environmental hazards. For example, there are unique regulations for construction companies because faulty standards could lead to risks for the general public. Similarly, maritime and agricultural laws, which also fall under the purview of OSHA, have environmental implications by which companies must abide.
OSHA also supervises general laws governing recordkeeping for businesses, with specifications and exemptions for businesses based on size. Federal whistleblower laws, which protect employees from employer retaliation if they inform OSHA of safety or other regulatory violations, are also investigated and enforced by OSHA.
While OSHA supervises many laws, they have a simple checklist of employer responsibilities available.
OSHA Enforcement and Penalties
OSHA has jurisdiction over seven million worksites nationwide and is staffed by a team of well-trained industrial and safety experts dispatched to investigate and enforce them.
Because OSHA responds to major projects and reports of safety issues, can they conduct inspections without warning and see things as they are without any preparation.
They set several inspection priorities, starting with any site where there is an imminent and ongoing dangerous situation. They will also respond to reports of on-site injuries, worker complaints, and referrals from other agencies.
When not referred to a specific site, they’ll conduct targeted inspections of sites at high-risk industries and follow-up inspections on previously cited sites.
OSHA maintains broad authority to issue penalties for violations, and businesses are financially liable for any citations. The maximum fine for most violations is $13,653, although this is usually only levied for serious violations or businesses with a history of citations.
However, the cost can increase exponentially if a business owner doesn’t rectify the issue quickly. Failure to abate can incur a fine of the maximum amount per day.
Willful or repeated violations fall under a different category, and businesses can incur a fine of 10 times the maximum amount for a standard violation. OSHA may also coordinate with other agencies if environmental issues are involved or criminal charges are warranted beyond the civil penalties.
Injury Recordkeeping and Reporting
One of the most important ways OSHA determines who to inspect is through the business’ history of on-site injuries. That’s why the OSHA recordkeeping division maintains an archive of injury reports filed by businesses.
When an employee files a workers’ compensation claim for an injury in the workplace, their employer may also have to notify OSHA. Depending on the severity of the injury, the employer may have to file a report within 24 hours. Employers must also report all fatalities within eight hours.
Penalties for failing to file a record of an on-site injury can rise to the same rate as standard non-willful offenses. While the recordkeeping division is technically separate from enforcement and inspections, a consistent pattern of reports from a business will likely result in a visit from an OSHA inspector.
OSHA regulations can be complex, and the department wants to help employers comply. They offer compliance checklists for employer requirements, plans for setting the business up for emergencies, and guides for safety procedure training.
You can also find tools for e-filing reports, paying penalties, and viewing OSHA statistics from past years for transparency. There are also resources for mental health help for employees and small businesses.
An Ally to Businesses
While OSHA regulations can catch businesses off guard, the organization works hard to educate employers, ensuring safe working conditions for employees. Their website provides everything a small business owner needs to ensure they comply and protect themselves from penalties and liability.