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This article includes a summary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, compliance with which is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At the end of the article, there is a guide for creating an OSHA compliance checklist. An OSHA compliance checklist is a checkbox list of all OHSA requirements that can be used by employers when conducting self-assessments of health and safety policies, procedures, and practices in the workplace.
What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act, commonly known as the OSH Act or OSHA (29 U.S.C. §§ 651 to 678) was signed into law on December 29, 1970, by President Nixon with the aim of improving health and safety in the workplace in the private sector and federal government.
For decades, American workers had to endure dangerous working conditions, which often resulted in workplace accidents, injuries, illnesses, and deaths. Prior to the passing of the OSH Act, few health and safety inspections of workplaces were conducted.
The OSH Act is a comprehensive federal law that regulates health and safety in the workplace. The OSH Act requires employers to provide a working environment that is free from recognized hazards. If hazards cannot be eliminated from the workplace, measures must be implemented to protect employees. The OSH Act requires employers to protect employees from exposure to harmful substances, excessive noise levels, dangerous equipment, heat and cold stress, and to provide a safe and sanitary workplace.
The OSH Act called for the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). OSHA is the regulator of compliance and is responsible for issuing health and safety guidance, and NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for preventing work-related injury and illness.
Requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act
OSHA has created standards that describe the steps that must be taken by employers to protect workers and make the workplace safe. The OSH Act covers all industries, and there is considerable variation in the hazards and risks to employees across different industry sectors. Consequently, standards have been set for different industries, namely agriculture, construction, maritime, and general industry. In the agriculture, construction, and maritime sectors, there is a high risk of injury in the workplace, and each sector has its unique hazards and risks. Those industries have their own sets of regulations, with the general industry category covering the majority of businesses in the United States, including medical and dental offices. This article is concerned with OSHA compliance in the general industry category, and medical and dental offices in particular.
The OSH Act requires employers to:
- Identify health and safety hazards and reduce risk to a low and acceptable level
- Inform employees about health and safety risks in the workplace
- Notify employees, via the “OSHA Job Safety and Health – It’s the Law Poster”, of OSHA citations, injury, and illness data
- Provide training to employees to allow them to work safely and avoid hazards
- Provide personal protective equipment to workers at no cost
- Maintain records of accidents, work-related injuries, and deaths
- Notify OSHA of any workplace fatality within 8 hours, and any hospitalization and serious workplace injury within 24 hours.
- Ensure employees do not face retaliation or discrimination for exercising their rights under the OSH Act.
- Follow all standards set by the OSHA
In the healthcare industry, compliance is required with several standards that include:
- The Hazard Communication Standard – Informing employees about hazardous substances and how to protect against exposure
- The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard – Minimizing the risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens
- The Personal Protective Equipment Standard – Ensuring appropriate personal protective equipment is available to employees to protect against workplace hazards
- The Fire Prevention Plan Standard – Implementing a fire safety plan and fire response procedures
- The Ionization Radiation Standard – Ensuring the risks from radiation exposure are reduced and controlled
- The General Duty Clause – Ensure measures are implemented to protect against hazards for which no specific standard applies
In addition to reducing hazards in the workplace, correcting health and safety issues, providing personal protective equipment, educating the workforce about health and safety threats, creating a safe working environment, and implementing work practice controls, employers are required to provide hearing examinations and other medical tests, when called for by OSHA standards.
OSHA requires employers to implement an OSHA manual to improve safety in the workplace and improve safety for their employees, which includes providing training for all employees to teach health and safety best practices, make employees aware of hazards in the workplace, and show them how to work safely.
Who Must Comply with the OSH Act?
OSHA is a federal law, so applies in all 50 U.S. states and U.S. territories, either directly or through a State Plan. State Plans are workplace safety and health programs that have been approved by OHSA. There are currently 22 State Plans that cover the private sector, state, and local government workers, and 6 State Plans that only cover state/local government workers. The remaining states and territories are covered by the Federal OSHA.
State Plans are continuously monitored by the OHSA to ensure they are effective at protecting against work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
|How OSHA Applies||States|
|State Plan Covering Private, State, Local Government||Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming,|
|State Plan Covering State/Local Government Only||Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands|
|Federal OSHA States||Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Northern Mariana Islands, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin|
Employee Rights Under the OSH Act
The OSH Act gave employees certain rights, which they must be allowed to exercise without retaliation or discrimination.
Employees have the right to:
- Receive information from their employer about hazards in the workplace, be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment, be trained how to work safely, and be provided with health and safety information and training in language that is easy to understand.
- Work in a safe and healthful workplace
- Observe testing to find hazards in the workplace and obtain a copy of any test results
- Obtain a copy of their medical records held by their employer
- File a complaint/request that OSHA conduct a workplace inspection
Enforcement of OSHA Compliance
The OSH Act is regulated by OSHA, which is a division of the United States Department of Labor (DOL). OHSA has the authority to impose financial penalties for non-compliance with any of its standards.
OSHA Fines and Penalties
Minimum and maximum penalties have been set, with the penalty amounts dictated by the gravity of the violation across 5 penalty tiers. The minimum and maximum OSHA civil penalties are increased annually in line with inflation. The table below is correct as of January 15, 2021.
|Type of Violation||Penalty Minimum||Penalty Maximum|
|Serious||$975 per violation||$13,653 per violation|
|Other-Than-Serious||$0 per violation||$13,653 per violation|
|Willful or Repeated||$9,753* per violation||$136,532 per violation|
|Posting Requirements||$0 per violation||$13,653 per violation|
|Failure to Abate||N/A||$13,653 per day unabated beyond the abatement date, generally limited to 30 days maximum.|
* For a repeated other-than-serious violation that otherwise would have no initial penalty, a penalty of $390 will be proposed for the first repeated violation, $975 for the second repeated violation, and $1,950 for a third repetition.
While OSHA can impose fines and penalties for noncompliance, U.S. states and territories where State Plans are in place can set their own penalty structures and minimum and maximum penalty levels. Those penalties must be at least as effective as those of the federal OSHA.
OSHA Compliance and COVID-19
OSHA is concerned with health and safety in the workplace, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been the biggest health and safety threat. Consequently, the enforcement strategy has been updated with prevention and control of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus prioritized.
An enforcement initiative was launched by OHSA which targets employers that have not made a good faith effort to protect employees from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the workplace, with COVID-19-related inspections prioritized over other health and safety inspections, with the emphasis on healthcare sites. Inspections are largely concerned with ensuring appropriate control measures have been implemented to reduce the risk of infection and transmission. OHSA has issued guidelines on handling COVID-19 complaints, severe illness reports, and inspection priorities.
OSHA Compliance Checklist
The OSHA compliance checklist below contains a summary of the requirements for employers in the general industry category, including medical and dental offices, and is an overview of the requirements. Comprehensive information on creating an OSHA compliance checklist can be obtained from OSHA.
All employers should create an OSHA compliance checklist to help them determine whether they are fully compliant. An OSHA compliance checklist should consist of a series of yes or no questions, which can be used to determine the state of compliance with all requirements of the OSH Act.
If you are looking to create your own self-inspection OSHA compliance checklist, you should ensure it includes all of the areas listed in our OSHA compliance checklist below. The OSHA has published several guides, including a template for a self-inspection OSHA compliance checklist, and various compliance and training tools.
When developing an OSHA compliance checklist, ensure it covers all of the standards and areas listed below. You should also ensure it includes a brief description of each standard, the training requirements, what training must include, who is responsible for providing the training, the recordkeeping requirements, medical record maintenance requirements, sources of hazards, and the controls, work practices, and PPE required.
Administrative, Recordkeeping, Posting, and Reporting Requirements
There are many administrative, posting, and reporting requirements. These include displaying the OSHA Job Safety and Health Protection Poster, Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300A), and emergency telephone numbers in a prominent area. The staff needs to be provided with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and clear signage must be displayed advising employees about biohazards, exposure to x-ray, microwave, or other harmful radiation, dangerous substances, floor loading, room capacities, and exit routes.
Employee medical records, records of employee exposure to hazardous substances, and employee training records, must be kept up to date and employee training records must be accessible for review by employees. Employers must also ensure all records are kept for at least the minimum retention period.
There are strict requirements for reporting workplace fatalities and employee hospitalizations to the nearest OSHA office, with workplace fatalities required to be reported within 8 hours and serious injuries within 24 hours.
All paperwork must be kept up to date and in order. OSHA is permitted to conduct inspections at any facility unannounced, and ransom visits to healthcare facilities are common.
Safety and Health Program
Employers need to implement a safety and health program and assign the responsibility of maintaining that program to an individual. A safety committee or group should also be established that includes management and employee representatives that meet regularly and report on their activities.
Policies and procedures should be implemented that allow employees to report potential safety issues. Those complaints must be dealt with promptly and the complaint and actions taken to reduce risk should be recorded and made available to employees.
The Hazard Communication Standard
This standard was developed for hazardous chemicals in the workplace and is concerned with informing employees about the risks. All hazardous materials should be labeled, information should be provided in the form of Safety Data Sheets (SDS), and employees must be told about all hazards and how they should be handled. A list must be maintained on all hazardous materials in the workplace that must be updated when new potentially hazardous materials are introduced. This standard also applies to structural dangers to chemicals and exposure to contaminated equipment and material.
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard
Employers who have work environments where there is a risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens must implement a control plan to limit the potential for exposure, provide appropriate PPE and safety devices, and ensure PPE and safety devices are maintained. It is also necessary to develop and implement waste disposal methods and procedures and post-exposure protocols. Training must be provided to the workforce on policies and procedures for handling potentially contaminated material and the procedures to follow in the event of exposure. Employees in medical environments are required to receive refresher training on bloodborne pathogen protocols annually, at no cost to themselves.
The Personal Protective Equipment Standard
Employers must ensure work practices are developed that ensure the health and safety of the workforce and, to further reduce risk, appropriate personal protective equipment such as face masks, eyewear, visors, gowns, aprons, and protective gloves must be available that is suitable given the level of risk. The PPE must be reliable, clean, fit each worker correctly, and safe methods of disposal of potentially contaminated PPE must be provided. Employees need to be trained on how to use, maintain, and dispose of PPE correctly and be told about its limitations.
The Fire Prevention Plan and Exit Routes Standards
Fire prevention measures must be implemented in the workplace, and policies and procedures developed to ensure employees are protected in the event of a fire. The local fire department should be familiar with the location and the hazards in the facility, a fire alarm system must be in place, fire doors must be clearly marked, exit routes should be safe and clearly marked with exit diagrams posted, those exit routes must be unobstructed at all times with exit doors opening in the direction of escape. An adequate number of the correct portable fire extinguishers for each hazard must be provided in readily accessible locations.
All fire safety systems must be regularly tested, and employees should be instructed in the use of fire extinguishers and fire protection procedures. Fire safety drills should be regularly conducted. An emergency action plan should be in place that describes the actions employees should take in the event of a fire or other emergency situation.
The Ionization Radiation Standard
Protocols must be developed for areas containing x-ray and diagnostic imaging equipment. Any area that contains such equipment must be subject to strict controls to reduce health risks. Employees must be told when such equipment is present in a work area, policies and procedures must be developed for working safely in those areas, and there are requirements for labeling all machinery and equipment that emits ionizing radiation.
Walking/Working Surfaces Standards
Measures must be implemented to prevent slips, trips, and falls, including from a height and on the same level. These are among the leading causes of workplace accidents. The OSHA provided clarification on the requirements for protecting workers from walking/working surface hazards in 2017 and has released additional training materials and guidelines for inspections.
Medical and First Aid Standards
There should always be at least one qualified member of staff in the workplace available to provide first aid. First aid kits must be fully stocked and be easily accessible, eye-wash stations or sink should be available for quick drenching or flushing, medical personnel should be readily available for consultations about employee health, and for immediate post-exposure medical evaluations and follow-ups.
Electrical standards apply to all electrical equipment and wiring, and there are also standards for medical facilities where flammable gases are used. Standards have been developed covering the design of electrical systems and safety-related working practices. All electrical hazards must be controlled, and measures implemented to reduce the risk of electric shocks. Electrical hazards are among OSHA’s most frequently cited hazards.
COVID-19 Emergency Standard
The OSHA has created an emergency temporary standard covering COVID-19 in healthcare worksites and has issued guidelines for making the workplace safe and limiting the potential for transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. An OSHA compliance checklist for COVID-19 is available from the OSHA website that covers preparations to make the workplace safe, physical distancing, ventilation, cleaning/disinfection, PPE, and procedures if exposure is suspected or if a COVID-19 infection is confirmed.
The General Working Environment
The general working environment must be clean and sanitary, toilets and washing facilities must be provided and kept in a sanitary state, hazardous materials must be cleaned up immediately, and all waste must be removed promptly and in accordance with federal, state, and local laws.
Adequate illumination should be provided in working areas, employees should be protected from excessive noise, there should be adequate ventilation, protection from heat and cold stress, and ergonomic workstations should be provided.