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What Is OSHA Compliance?

Max Freedman
Max Freedman

OSHA refers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which sets rules regarding workplace safety. Learn about OSHA requirements and how to comply with OSHA.

Addressing workplace safety concerns might be at the bottom of your to-do list, but failing to prioritize safety can be extremely costly in the long run. That's because employers who ignore Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations could face fines of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just as importantly, OSHA compliance decreases the likelihood that your employees become so sick or injured that they cannot work.

OSHA compliance, and its attendant workplace safety and health measures, are more than secondary business concerns –  they help safeguard you, your employees, and your operations. Learn more about OSHA compliance and why and how you should adhere to it below.

What is OSHA?

OSHA is a federal agency housed within the Department of Labor (DOL). Its purpose is to establish and enforce rules that employers must follow to keep their workplaces safe and healthy for all employees. OSHA may also provide employer and employee training, education, outreach, and assistance.

What does it mean to be OSHA compliant?

OSHA compliance is a company's adherence to all OSHA workplace safety standards. OSHA compliance requires your company to detect and resolve workplace health and safety issues in a timely fashion. Importantly, OSHA compliance requires your company to fix pressing issues before measures such as personal protective equipment (PPE) become necessary.

The exact requirements of an OSHA-compliant workplace

The above OSHA compliance description gives you a general, theoretical overview of what adherence entails. In practice, OSHA compliance requires that you follow dozens of more specific rules to keep your employees safe and healthy in the workplace. These rules, as first outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, state that employers must:

  • Regularly keep workplace conditions in line with basic OSHA standards.
  • Provide employees with only safe equipment and tools, and maintain or upgrade these devices as needed.
  • Post clear, obvious signage to indicate potential workplace hazards to employees.
  • Clearly display OSHA citations near spaces deemed unsafe for the longer of:
    • Three full days, or
    • Until the area becomes safe again.
  • Outline safe workplace operation procedures and notify employees of policy changes.
  • Provide workplace safety training for employees in clear, obvious language.
  • Teach employees about safe chemical use, incident prevention and hazardous exposure protocol.
  • Store data sheets for all hazardous materials digitally or physically in the workplace.
  • If applicable, follow OSHA standards for training and medical examinations.
  • Display an OSHA poster or your state OSHA agency's equivalent in a workplace location with heavy foot traffic.
  • Report all workplace incidents to OSHA according to the following timeline:
    • You must report work-related deaths within eight hours.
    • You must report work-related eye losses, amputations and inpatient hospitalizations within 24 hours.
  • Maintain a running record of all work-related injuries and illnesses, and give current and former employees easy access to these records.
  • Provide employees with medical and exposure records.
  • Heed all OSHA compliance officer requests during workplace safety and health inspections.
  • Never discriminate or retaliate against employees who pursue legal or other action according to their OSHA rights.

Who does OSHA compliance apply to?

OSHA compliance applies to almost every business. Unless your company meets the OSHA's extremely limited exemption standards, your workplace must comply with OSHA at all times.

The below types of companies, employees and business circumstances are exempt from OSHA's federal workplace safety standards:

  • Self-employed people
  • Farm employers' immediate family members
  • Any workplace hazards that another federal agency, such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration, would cover instead

Additionally, approximately 20 states have their own workplace safety and health programs, even though the OSH Act applies to all private companies in the U.S. and its territories. The states with their own workplace safety and health programs are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

In these states, the state authority and the federal OSHA may split employer OSHA coverage. However, in all 50 states, the federal OSHA has the final say in all workplace safety and health matters.

Bottom LineBottom line: OSHA compliance applies to almost every business. In all 50 states, the federal OSHA has the final say in all workplace safety and health matters.

What happens if you don't comply with OSHA?

Lack of compliance could prove dangerous for your employees and you. Sick or injured employees can't perform their usual work for you, thus hurting your operations and revenue.

Failing to remain OSHA compliant has legal ramifications as well. Employees working in a noncompliant environment can file complaints to OSHA, which can then send its officers to your workplace for an inspection. Should OSHA officers find that your workplace isn't OSHA compliant, you could face large fines.

Compounding the short-term effects of a fine is the long-term cost of a reputation as an unsafe or unhealthy workplace. If an OSHA official designates your workplace as unsafe, employee motivation could drop, and you could see a spike in employee absenteeism and turnover. Hiring can tougher, too, as few people are willing to work in unsafe conditions.

Did you know?Did you know? Besides paying expensive fines, failing to remain OSHA compliant can result in high turnover among your current employees, and you may have a difficult time recruiting new employees to your company.

How to stay OSHA compliant

Maintaining OSHA compliance is straightforward. Below are some tips for complying with  OSHA requirements:

1. Determine your risk.

The first step in ensuring your OSHA compliance is to identify outstanding workplace safety or health concerns. OSHA offers a guide to workplace safety assessments, which you can typically follow through on yourself.

2. Start with simple fixes.

Every workplace can be safer after just a few simple fixes. Identify tripping, slipping, or falling hazards, and clear them. Eliminate hallway clutter and dry your floors immediately if you clean them with liquids. Place floor mats or carpeting liberally throughout your workplace.

3. Conduct workplace safety training.

All employers and teams benefit from safety training that addresses workplace fires, machinery use, and licensure needed for dangerous equipment. In your training, be clear that only qualified and trained employees should use hazardous workplace tools.

4. Keep ample personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand.

PPE includes anything that protects your employees from injury when working with dangerous items. It is important to keep PPE on hand, but it is not a substitute for safety procedures. Providing PPE amid unresolved workplace safety hazards instead of addressing these hazards violates OSHA rules. Fixing the hazard, rather than coming up with workarounds, should be a priority.

5. Let the machines do the lifting.

Employees who lift heavy objects as part of their work may be more prone to workplace injuries (and claims on your workers' comp insurance). Lifting and transportation machinery circumvent this risk if used safely, and they make your operations more efficient. Whether or not you invest in machinery, you should train your employees on proper lifting techniques.

6. Have a first aid kit ready to go.

First aid kits typically have everything you need for initially dealing with workplace emergencies before your employees visit a doctor or hospital. Provide training to your employees about where first aid kits are located and how to use one so that anyone on your team can tend immediately to emergencies.

7. Properly maintain your equipment.

Old or malfunctioning equipment is always a workplace hazard, so equipment maintenance (and upgrades when necessary) is crucial for workplace safety. Don't try to fix it yourself, or ask employees to fix it – call the professionals instead.

8. Don't neglect mental health.

More than ever before, mental health is a key piece of the workplace safety pie. That's because happier, less stressed employees make better – and safer – decisions. A broad set of company time-off and mental health policies can help on this front.

9. Know what to do in an emergency.

Ultimately, even employees in the most OSHA-compliant office can still experience workplace injuries and illnesses. That's why even the safest companies should establish emergency protocol. Your emergency plans should cover everyday injuries, unexpected incidents, and major medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, and even natural disaster preparedness.

10. Have the right insurance.

Business insurance plans, such as workers' compensation and business property insurance, are key to restoring workplace safety following major incidents. After these events, your insurance plans can step in to cover workplace safety and health costs, though they're not a substitute for 24/7 OSHA compliance. Together, insurance and workplace safety plans keep your whole workplace safe and healthy – and operational – even in dire circumstances.

Image Credit: Burin Pochai / Getty Images
Max Freedman
Max Freedman
business.com Contributing Writer
Max Freedman is a content writer who has written hundreds of articles about small business strategy and operations, with a focus on finance and HR topics. He's also published articles on payroll, small business funding, and content marketing. In addition to covering these business fundamentals, Max also writes about improving company culture, optimizing business social media pages, and choosing appropriate organizational structures for small businesses.