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Workplace Safety

Workers have the right to a safe workplace.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed in 1970 to prevent workers from being killed or seriously harmed at work. The law requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards, and provides information, training, and assistance to employers and workers. OSHA also gives workers important rights to participate in activities to ensure their protection from job hazards.

A workplace safety program is a written set of policies, procedures, standards, and practices that establishes a formal procedure for workplace safety that is compliant with state and federal laws. Safe work procedures direct the activity regarding all hazardous tasks performed at a workplace to eliminate or minimize risks.

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Employer Responsibilities

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their workforce. If hazards are identified, employers must correct the safety and health problems.

A workplace must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. OSHA provides workplace safety and health protection to most private sector employers and their workers, and federally covered public sector employers and workers across the United States and certain territories and jurisdictions.

The employers’ duty under OSHA is to eliminate or reduce hazards by making practicable changes in working conditions. Examples could be determining unsafe chemical use that traps harmful fumes resulting in unclean air in the workplace. In this example, corrective action would go beyond the typical personal protective equipment including facemasks, gloves, and/or earplugs.

Self-employed workers are not covered by OSHA. Federal agencies must also have a safety and health program that meets the same standards as private employers. Due to the 1998 amendment to OSHA, the U.S. Postal Service is covered the same as any private sector employer.

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Worker Protection is Enforced by Law

OSHA gives workers and their representatives the right to see information that employers collect on hazards in the workplace. Workers have the right to know what hazards are present in the workplace and how to protect themselves.

To protect employees from harm, OSHA standards for employers requires workers the rights to have protective equipment and to take measures to address the following:

  • Fall protection, such as a safety harness or lifeline.
  • Trench cave-in prevention measures.
  • Safety procedures for workers who enter confined spaces (manholes, trenches, or grain bins).
  • Equipment to lessen the exposure to high levels of noise that can damage hearing.
  • Prevention of exposure to harmful levels of substances such as asbestos and lead.
  • Instruments with built-in safety features to prevent skin punctures or cuts that could cause exposure to infectious diseases.
  • Worker training must be in the language and vocabulary that workers understand.

Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of OSHA. This clause requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards and is generally cited when no specific OSHA standard applies to the hazard.

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