If you’re involved in the running of any sort of business, you likely know all about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This regulatory agency is responsible for making sure that federal health and safety laws are followed at all times in order to protect the rights of employees everywhere to have access to a safe work environment; if OSHA finds out you’ve been violating one of the many federal laws put on the books to protect those workers, it’s got the authority to come down on you hard in the form of penalties and fees.
But what, exactly, gives OSHA the power to do so? What is the OSHA mandate and how did it get it in the first place? The easy answer of “well, the government said so” might be technically correct, but there’s more to it than that. Here’s a (brief) history of OSHA and how the OSHA mandate came about.
The Spirit of ’68
OSHA’s inception, and what would become the OSHA mandate, can be traced back to 1968. Then, President Lyndon Johnson initially sought to create a series of federal labor laws but was ultimately unsuccessful due to legislative wrangling. Two years later, as administrations and the makeup of Congress changed, it was a different story indeed; in 1970 Congress passed what was then called the “Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act“. That same year President Richard Nixon signed it into law, and the Act went into effect.
What the Occupational Safety and Health Act did was to establish an entire series of standards and practices in order to make workplaces around America safer. In order to ensure these new standards and practices weren’t just ignored but were actually complied with by companies across the US, the Act also called for an enforcement arm to be created. This was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the OSHA mandate was to monitor workplaces, investigate complaints, and administer fines and penalties if the watchdog agency found noncompliance.
How Serious is Serious?
The OSHA mandate is to keep workplaces safe, and it does that through the threat of serious fines and penalties. Getting an OSHA penalty isn’t like getting a parking ticket – the cost of one of these fines can be tens of thousands of dollars. For example, the current cost of a serious violation or even just run-of-the-mill negligence in not posting proper warning labels can be as much as $13,653 per violation according to Investopedia. That’s not all, though – if OSHA tells you to fix an issue and you don’t do it by the due date they assign you, you’ll be fined that same amount per day until you get it done.
Of course, OSHA keeps the truly gargantuan fines for repeat offenders or for those it determines as being willful in ignoring occupational health safety guidelines or regulations. Your company can be hit with a truly massive $136,532 per willful or repeat violation. Even one of these is often enough to shutter a small or medium-sized business for good; even larger companies will find it difficult to bear the costs of more than one of these fines, making it absolutely imperative that companies do the right thing and keep their employees safe.