Workplace safety laws are designed to protect employees and employers alike, but you have to know what laws to follow.
There are a huge array of workplace safety laws out there depending on the industry, whether they’re construction standards, maritime standards, or less physically-active industries. There are also a lot of standards within each specific industry depending on the hazard in question.
Many employers would never dream of allowing working conditions that threaten the health and safety of their employees. But some might not be so careful, perhaps because they simply can't keep up with ever-changing safety regulations.
Among the best-known are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for workplace health and safety. These are the minimum standards that employers must abide by to provide a basic level of safety for employees.
You could write a whole library about the many safety laws and interpretations. Here, we’re going to look at the grandfather of modern safety regulations (the Occupational Safety and Health Act), as well as a few standards most commonly cited in safety violations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act
The main statute protecting workers’ rights is the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. OSHA’s primary responsibility is to administer the OSH Act. As such, most of OSHA’s existing safety regulations fall under the umbrella of the OSH Act.
The Act is designed to assure the health and safety of workers, both by granting administrative authority to OSHA and by supporting state and local governments in enacting their safety laws. To that end, the OSH Act ensures a number of rights, including the right to:
- Receive training (in layman’s terms) on the hazards of the workplace, including ways to avoid harm
- Make a confidential safety or health complaint to OSHA to get an inspection of the workplace
- Make a complaint to OSHA without fear of reprisal, discrimination, or retaliation
- Take part in OSHA inspections of the workplace, if desired
- Obtain documentation on work-related injuries and illnesses
- Retrieve copies of any tests done to measure workplace hazards
Under the purview of the OSH Act, there are several OSHA standards designed to address specific safety concerns.
Hazard communication is the top two most-cited standards found in safety violations.
Under standard 29 CFR 1910.1200, all chemical manufacturers and importers are required to classify all chemicals they produce or import and employers are required to inform employees about any hazardous chemicals they are expected to work with.
If employers receive shipments containing hazardous chemicals, they are required to keep safety data sheets readily available. However, the standard goes well beyond hazardous chemicals to include anything from hazardous waste and drugs to radiation and tobacco products.
Fall protection is another incredibly common violation, especially in the construction industry.
Under standard 29 CFR 1926.501, employers are required to provide fall protection systems. It is the employer’s responsibility to determine whether or not a working/walking surface is safe for employees, and employees are only allowed to work on surfaces with the appropriate structural integrity.
Keep in mind, however, that there are a wide variety of fall protection standards, from general industry to shipyards to longshoring. There are also different fall protection rules based on the situation, whether you’re working with a ladder, stairways, scaffolding, platform, and more.
Common Workplace Safety Laws
Regardless of industry, employers are expected to abide by general workplace health and safety standards. Investigators from OSHA may carry out announced or unannounced inspections at worksites. Violations can result in penalties and fines for employers.
Employees might not always recognize the laws that protect employees. But knowing more about them can help workers more easily identify gaps in safety training and safety policies.
Here are some sample workplace safety standards issued by OSHA. The full text of all of OSHA’s regulations is available online at the agency’s website, OSHA.gov.
- “One or more methods of machine guarding shall be provided to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area from hazards such as those created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks” (29 CFR 1926.501). This requirement helps keep anyone operating machinery safe. It’s a general safety standard that applies across industries and is meant to reduce injuries to hands, faces, and eyes in particular.
- “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation” (29 CFR 1926.102). This requirement reduces the chances that employees may experience eye or facial injuries in the workplace. Generally, employers are required to provide protective gear and training for using that gear.
- Other common safety standards include construction scaffolding, ladder safety, lockout/tagout of dangerous machinery, and fall prevention. Workplaces are also subject to common employee safety standards that dictate the width of aisles, minimum numbers of exit routes, storage and use of hazardous materials, access to potable water, and conditions where personal protective gear is required (as well as what type of gear).
Laws that protect employees in the workplace may be passed at the local, state, and federal levels. Both employers and employees have various roles and responsibilities related to workplace safety under the law.
These workplace safety laws are intended to reduce workplace accidents, illness and injury. Inspections – both announced and unannounced – can take place at any time to see whether employers are following workplace safety laws.
Staying Compliant with Workplace Safety Laws
These are just a few of the workplace safety laws you may need to keep in mind as an employer, but remember, this list is by no means comprehensive.
If you’re not sure where to begin with your safety obligations, we can help you stay on top of your compliance tasks. Want to find out more? Get in touch today to find out how we can help you stay one step ahead of industry regulations.