The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, mostly commonly referred to as OSHA, is the federal agency charged with the task of assuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees across the country. The agency does this by creating and enforcing standards as well as providing training, outreach, education, and assistance to employers and employees.
What is OSHA
OSHA was established by Congress through the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as a part of the United States Department of Labor. Their goal was to establish long-term solutions for ensuring the rights of workers and regulating work hazards. The agency is run by the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, who answers directly to the Secretary of Labor.
A relatively small agency, OSHA employs approximately 2,200 inspectors who are responsible for overseeing the health and safety of 130 million workers. Since this translates to very few inspectors for such a large workforce, states also have the option of developing OSHA-approved state-run programs dedicated to job safety and health. Twenty-two states and territories have, thus far, created such programs.
The agency is primarily responsible for private sector employers and their workers, though certain public sector employers and workers also fall under their jurisdiction. The self-employed and employees of state or local governments, as well as workers in industries governed by separate federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, are not covered by OSHA.
OSHA coverage extends throughout the United States, including the District of Colombia, as well as the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands as defined by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
How OSHA Protects Workers
OSHA protects workers by setting the mandatory health and safety standards at many jobs, including construction work, hospital employment, maritime operations, and so forth. In addition to creating these workplace standards, OSHA also carries out extensive training of employers so that they are properly educated in workplace health and safety.
It is also OSHA’s responsibility to make sure their workplace health and safety standards are met by worksites. The agencies employees monitor and conduct inspections of work environments at over 8 million sites each year. If employers under their jurisdiction are found to be violating OSHA standards, they may be given fines or face other consequences for violating workers’ rights.
What are Workers’ Rights
OSHA stipulates that all American workers have the right to a work environment that is safe and healthy. Any worker who feels their employer is violating these standards has the right to file a complaint with OSHA. In response to complaints, OSHA sends out an inspector to verify whether there is or isn’t evidence of a breach in workplace health and safety.
The agency is also responsible for documenting workplace injuries. While employers are generally required to be the ones reporting any on-the-job injuries, if no such process is in place, workers may report to OSHA directly themselves. For the protection of employees who report injuries or hazardous work conditions, OSHA also mandates that employers cannot discriminate against anyone who files a complaint.