A Complete Guide to OSHA and Workplace Safety

Emma AndersonJanuary 30, 2023

Imagine a world where going to work each day meant risking injury or illness, with no one to hold employers accountable for maintaining safe conditions. This was the reality for many workers before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1970. After over 50 years of its operations, OSHA, a federal agency within the United States Department of Labor, is excellently ensuring employees’ occupational safety and healthy working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and workplace safety regulations. In this article, we’ll discuss OSHA in detail, its role, and how your organization can comply with safety compliances.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Labor, led by the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. Established in 1970 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of workers by enforcing regulations and standards. OSHA covers most private sector workers and selects public sector employees in all states and territories

The Brief History of Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 aimed to enhance workplace safety and provide safer working conditions for all employees across industries. It addressed health hazards such as unsanitary conditions, heat and cold stress, and toxic environments

The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set health and safety standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) under the Centers for Disease Control to research and support OSHA

OSHA became operational on April 28, 1971, and quickly established its first safety standards five months later. These initial standards set the foundation for current regulations and outline employer responsibilities and reporting requirements

In 1972, OSHA established the OSHA Training Institute to educate compliance officers, safety managers, and non-OSHA personnel. At the time, OSHA had ten regional offices and 49 area offices in major cities to inform employers of their safety obligations

What is the Mission of OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act aims to guarantee a safe and healthy workplace for all workers. This is achieved through enforcing standards set under the Act, supporting state efforts to promote safe conditions, conducting research, and providing education and training in occupational safety and health

OSHA, the administration established by the OSH Act, has a mission that aligns with the Act’s goal. It aims to ensure safe and healthy working conditions through standard enforcement, training, outreach, education, and assistance

What is the Role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency within the Department of Labor responsible for overseeing workplace safety. OSHA conducts both announced and unannounced inspections to ensure that employers adhere to health and safety standards. Reported workplace incidents also prompt some checks

Based on the findings of its inspections, OSHA may impose fines and penalties on employers if necessary. OSHA works closely with employers to ensure compliance with health and safety standards, making it an important resource for businesses

How OSHA Helps Employers?

OSHA prioritizes education and training to assist employers in meeting standards compliance. The agency widely publishes its standards to ensure they are easily accessible to all employers

In addition to complying with standards, employers have obligations for recordkeeping, reporting, surveying occupational injuries and illnesses, and displaying required signs informing employees of their rights. OSHA provides tools, resources, and inspection checklists for employers to understand standards and train their employees. The agency also offers compliance assistance

Implementing effective safety procedures and policies in the workplace can reduce the risk of occupational injuries or illness, reducing costs related to medical expenses and liability. A solid commitment to safety can also reduce absenteeism and improve employee morale, contributing to a positive safety culture in the workplace. Conversely, employees may disengage and seek employment elsewhere if they feel their employer does not prioritize their safety at work

What are Common Occupational Hazards?

There are dozens of kinds of operational health and safety hazards. Some examples of occupational hazards include physical risks, chemical hazards, biological, ergonomic, and psychological hazards, and more. Some occupational hazards and injuries require immediate reporting to OSHA; others are included in reports the agency needs to be completed regularly. An OSHA investigation may be triggered based on the severity or intensity of a particular incident; however, OSHA also accepts whistleblower reports. Workers can advocate if they are subject to unsafe working conditions

Most Common Workplace Safety Laws Every Employer Should Know

To ensure a safe work environment, it’s important to be familiar with the key safety regulations. In this overview, we’ll focus on the seminal Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 and the most commonly cited standards in safety violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Act

The OSH Act is a federal law that protects workers’ safety and health rights. It gives administrative authority to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and supports state and local governments in implementing their safety laws. The OSH Act grants workers various rights, including:

Hazard communication is one of the top two most-cited standards in safety violations. The standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, requires chemical manufacturers and importers to classify all chemicals they produce or import and employers to inform employees about any hazardous chemicals they may encounter. Employers must also keep safety data sheets for dangerous chemicals readily available. The standard covers various hazards, from hazardous waste and drugs to radiation and tobacco products

Fall Protection

Fall protection is another common safety violation, especially in the construction industry. The standard, 29 CFR 1926.501, requires employers to provide fall protection systems. Employers are responsible for determining the safety of working and walking surfaces, and employees may only work on surfaces with appropriate structural integrity. There are different fall protection standards for different industries and situations, such as general industry, shipyards, long shoring, ladders, stairways, scaffolding, and platforms

Common Safety Laws

The most common safety standards in the workplace include proper scaffold construction, ladder safety, protection from dangerous machinery through lockout/tagout procedures, and fall prevention measures. Employers must also comply with regulations regarding aisle width, a minimum number of exits, safe storage and handling of hazardous materials, access to clean drinking water, and requirements for personal protective equipment

Safety laws for workers exist on local, state, and federal levels and outline both employer and employee responsibilities for maintaining a safe workplace. These regulations aim to prevent workplace accidents, illnesses, and injuries. OSHA may conduct announced or unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with workplace safety laws

Simple Steps to Help You Maintain Workplace Safety Compliance

Set Rules That Match Regulatory Standards

Step one is ensuring workplace safety compliance by having clear rules and standards. All companies should have an employee handbook or digital checklists that outline the company’s safety guidelines and expectations. Ideally, this should match the regulatory standards you must meet. If you align your safety regulations with that of OSHA and other regulatory agencies, meeting your standards will mean you won’t have to worry about outside organizations finding violations. Enforcing those rules is another issue, but setting those standards is an excellent place to start

Invest in Training

The best thing that any company can do to improve workplace safety and meet workplace safety compliance is to invest in training. That means investing both money and time in training employees the right way. Employees need consistent reinforcement in both the company’s rules and regulatory standards. The more training you give workers, the less likely they will make a mistake and the more likely they will meet all compliance regulations. Even if the training gets redundant and tedious, frequent training is the best way to create a safe work environment

Maintain Safety Records

Good recordkeeping habits can go a long way when dealing with OSHA and similar regulatory agencies. OSHA has specific guidelines for reporting injuries, illnesses, and accidents. But it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile by maintaining records of close calls, self-inspections, safety training, and anything else connected to occupational safety. The more you focus on recordkeeping, the less likely you are to fall short of workplace safety compliance standards for recordkeeping. You can also take the help of safety audit software to fulfill recordkeeping requirements.

Investigate Every Incident

On recordkeeping, OSHA requires that any accident resulting in an injury or fatality gets reported. Of course, it helps to be familiar with these requirements. But it also helps to go beyond the minimum when it comes to workplace safety compliance by investigating and managing incidents, even if it doesn’t result in an injury. Even close calls and near misses should be analyzed, even if it’s not mandatory. The more you investigate workplace safety, the more information you’ll have, which will help you spot previously unseen safety and compliance requirements.

Emphasize Employee Engagement

As far as occupational safety is concerned, there’s almost no replacement for employee engagement. Managers and supervisors should have an open-door policy for employees who want to discuss compliance matters. If workers believe the company violates something, they should be encouraged to come forward so the issue can be corrected rather than workers feeling like they’ll be punished. When it comes to compliance, the most important thing is getting it right. That’s why employees should feel free to come forward with concerns, while supervisors should actively seek feedback from workers

Get Outside Help with Regulatory Compliance Training and Issues

Finally, the best way to keep up with compliance issues is to get help from an outside safety management system.  Safety audit software can track and monitor every aspect of occupational health and safety, with a particular emphasis on maintaining regulatory compliance. It’s a proven way of ensuring you stay one step ahead of compliance matters


In this article, we’ve learned about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its role in ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees in the United States. We’ve also discussed how OSHA creates and enforces safety standards and regulations and conducts education and outreach efforts to promote workplace safety. Additionally, we’ve highlighted the responsibility of employers to comply with OSHA regulations and employees’ right to a safe working environment. Overall, this article has provided a comprehensive overview of the importance of OSHA and its mission to protect the health and well-being of American workers

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