OSHA: What You Need to Know

As a business owner, it’s important to understand what OSHA is, how it works, which companies are required to comply by law, and the kinds of claims that could be raised against an employer. This post addresses all of these issues.

The Basics

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by an act of Congress in 1970 to protect workers from injury and death in the workplace. OSHA is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. It is a relatively small federal agency with about 2,100 inspectors nationwide. OSHA is responsible for the safety of 130 million workers in the United States. According to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which created OSHA, employers are responsible for creating a safe working environment for their employees.

Safety Standards

Employers are required to follow all safety standards established by OSHA. OSHA standards are rules that have been issued to give guidance to employers on what they are legally required to do to protect their workers from hazards in the workplace. To issue a safety standard, OSHA must show that there is a significant risk to workers and that employers can feasibly mitigate the risk. Some examples of OSHA standards include: preventing exposure to infectious diseases, protecting employees who enter confined spaces, and providing training for specific dangerous jobs. In addition, employers must comply with the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious known hazards.


OSHA does not conduct random inspections. Instead, OSHA inspections are generally triggered by a complaint, imminent danger (as reported or inspected), workplace injuries or deaths, by referral, as a follow-up inspection, or as a planned inspection. If a violation is discovered during an inspection, the employer may receive a citation and fine. The citation will generally include suggestions for ways to correct the violation and a date by which the correction must be made. An employer may appeal the citation, and an employee may challenge the time frame for when the violation must be corrected. Appeals of citations are reviewed by an independent commission.

Employer Responsibilities and Employee Rights

OSHA requires employers to provide a safe, hazard-free workplace in compliance with all standards. Also, OSHA requires that employers provide training to employees on hazardous chemicals. When applicable, OSHA requires the employee to provide protective equipment to their employees at no cost to the employee. If there is a work-related death, OSHA requires the employer to report within 8 hours, and if there is an in-patient hospitalization, the employer has 24 hours to report it to OSHA. The employer must keep a record of all work-related injuries, and an employer is not allowed to retaliate against an employee for reporting safety violations. OSHA provides training, education, and assistance in compliance to employers.

Employees have several rights protected by OSHA including the right to: work in a safe workplace, receive training regarding safety, review records of work-related injuries, get copies of test results measuring workplace hazards, file a complaint if they believe there have been a safety violations, and not be retaliated against by their employer for reporting a safety violation.

Companies OSHA Covers

OSHA covers most private businesses in the United States. OSHA also covers federal agencies. OSHA will not fine federal agencies, but does monitor and respond to employee complaints. Self-employed workers are not covered by OSHA. OSHA makes exemptions and partial exemptions for some small businesses based on the size of the business and level of hazardous risk. Small businesses with less than ten employees are exempt from OSHA regulations unless OSHA informs the business in writing that it is required. Businesses in specific low-hazard industries are also exempt from OSHA regulations. The exemption list is updated annually.

Claims That May Be Raised Against an Employer

Employers may have complaints filed against their company for standards violations. When no specific standard has been violated, employers may be cited for failure to comply with the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious known hazards. Also, if an employee files a complaint and the employee is retaliated against in any way, the employer may face a retaliation claim.


OSHA compliance is essential for business owners. A good understanding of what is required of employers can protect businesses from OSHA complaints and provide a safe and positive workplace for employees.


Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations