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What Is OSHA and How Does it Help You?

You may have seen those OSHA posters in the back room of a place you worked, or in the staff break room. Have you ever wondered if there was more to OSHA than the posters?

OSHA was created as both an act of Congress and a national public health agency in 1970. Its mandate is to ensure that no worker should have to choose between their life and their job, and that the right to a safe workplace is a basic human right.

By 1970, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job each year. Since OSHA’s creation, workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths have fallen by more than 65 percent. Nevertheless, far too many preventable injuries and fatalities continue to occur. OSHA standards and regulations, and enforcement of those continue to save lives.

Employers are legally responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers. OSHA regulations and enforcement assure safe and healthful conditions for working people by setting standards and providing training, outreach, education, and compliance assistance. Both federal and state governments administer OSHA.

Who is covered by OSHA?
OSHA covers most private and some public employers and their workers in all 50 states.

What do employers have to do?

  • Follow all OSHA safety and health standards.
  • Provide a workplace that does not have serious hazards.
  • Find and correct safety and health problems.
  • Try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making possible changes in working conditions rather than relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs.
  • Prominently display the official OSHA Job Safety and Health—It’s the Law poster that describes rights and responsibilities under the OSH Act.
  • Inform workers about chemical hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets, and other methods.
  • Provide safety training to workers in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSHA standards.
  • Provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
  • Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by some OSHA standards.
  • Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace fatality or within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.
  • Not retaliate against workers for using their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness.
  • Post OSHA citations and injury and illness data where workers can see them.

OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods employers are legally required to follow to protect their workers from hazards. Before OSHA can issue a standard, it must go through a very extensive and lengthy process that includes substantial public engagement, notice and comment. The agency must show that a significant risk to workers exists and that there are feasible measures employers can take to protect their workers.

What rights do workers have? Workers are entitled to:

  • Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
  • File a confidential complaint.
  • Have their workplace inspected.
  • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
  • Have training done in a language and vocabulary they can understand.
  • Receive copies of records of work-related injuries and illnesses that occur in their workplace.
  • Receive copies of the results from tests and monitoring done to find and measure hazards in their workplace.
  • Receive copies of their workplace medical records.
  • Participate in an OSHA inspection and speak in private with the inspector.
  • File a complaint with OSHA if they have been retaliated against by their employer as the result of requesting an inspection or using any of their other rights under the OSH Act.
  • File a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a “whistleblower” under the 21 additional federal laws for which OSHA has jurisdiction.

What to do if you’ve been injured on the job

  • Report the injury to your supervisor immediately.
  • Seek medical care as soon as possible. Check with your supervisor to see if you need to go to a company-approved doctor, or if you can see your own.
  • If it’s an emergency, obviously get to a hospital emergency room!
  • As soon as you can, notify your supervisor in writing about your injury, and get a Workers’ Comp claim form. Until this claim form is completed, the employer has no obligation to provide benefits. If you cannot get a claim form from your company, your doctor or hospital may have a copy. If not, contact your state Workers’ Compensation Office.
  • Keep a copy of the claim, and a copy of any communication to your supervisor.
  • Return the filled-out claim (fill out the Employee section only) to your employer.
  • Make sure to file as quickly as you can—there are time limits for reporting an injury and filing a claim.
  • Get documentation from the doctor you see.
  • Keep in mind that a doctor paid for by your employer’s insurance company is not your friend.They may be motivated to minimize the seriousness of your injury or to identify it as a pre-existing condition.
  • If the doctor asks if your injury is related to a pre-existing condition, just say “no” unless you have suffered a significant previous injury or chronic condition that is related to your injury.
  • The Workers’ Comp insurance company has 14 days to mail you a status letter about your claim. If you don’t receive this letter, you should call the insurance company.

For more information, visit OSHA’s Workers’ Rights page at http://www.osha.gov/workers.

Learn about filing a workplace safety complaint here: https://www.osha.gov/workers/file_complaint.html

Find information for employers here: https://www.osha.gov/employers/index.html

Find your state’s OSHA office here: https://www.osha.gov/html/RAmap.html

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