Employer Responsibilities Under OSHA

by Cindy Hill
OSHA inspectors make sure employers follow workplace safety regulations.

OSHA inspectors make sure employers follow workplace safety regulations.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 -- OSHA -- is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA regulations are intended to protect workers' health and safety on the job. Employers have a duty to comply with OSHA standards, maintain a safe workplace, and keep records detailing worker injuries or illnesses related to their employment.

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OSHA Standards

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards under OSHA. OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are specific OSHA standards for construction work, agriculture and maritime operations, as well as general industry standards which apply to most work sites. The workplaces of people who are self-employed, as well as employees in fields covered by other agencies, like mines and aviation, are not subject to OSHA standards. States may administer OSHA regulations within their state, if the state has an approved plan with regulations that meet or exceed the standards set by OSHA.

General and Specific Duties

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace free of serious hazards, as well as follow all relevant OSHA safety and health standards. The General Duty Clause of OSHA requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards. This clause applies when no specific OSHA standard regulates a particular hazard situation. Specific OSHA safety standards include requirements to provide protection from falls when working in elevated locations, shoring up trenching to prevent cave-ins, maintaining safety guards on machinery, providing respirators for employees working in environments with harmful fumes like paint, and protecting workers from contact with harmful substances like asbestos.

Other Duties

Employers have a number of administrative duties under OSHA in addition to the general and specific duties to keep their workplaces free from serious hazards. These duties include keeping records of work-related injuries and illnesses; informing employees about hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, and other methods; providing hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards; posting OSHA citations, injury and illness data in the workplace where workers will see them; and notifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within 8 hours of a workplace incident in which there is a death or when three or more workers go to a hospital. Employers are also prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against a worker for exercising his rights under OSHA by reporting hazards or insisting on their correction.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or its state equivalent, typically conducts workplace inspections without advance notice. If violations are found, the Administration may issue a citation requiring prompt correction of the issue, and may also issue fines against the employer. The employer must prominently post a notice of the violation near the workplace hazard that was cited, until the situation has been corrected. Workers can file a complaint with the Administration, or related state agency, requesting an inspection, and may request the name of the person reporting the violation be kept confidential.