What Employers Need to Know About OSHA

OSHA Information For Employers During the Coronavirus Crisis

Storage of protective headwear, footwear and gloves
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If you have employees in your business, you need to know about OSHA. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) requires employers to keep their work environments safe for workers. The Act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), within the Department of Labor.

OSHA Information for Employers during the Coronavirus Epidemic

OSHA has information for employers on protecting employees during the Coronavirus epidemic:

OSHA has a new poster listing "Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus."

A new OSHA publication with Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 includes detailed steps you can take to reduce employee exposure risk.

A series of OSHA articles details COViD-19 guidance for different types of businesses, including restaurants, construction, retail, package delivery, and manufacturing.

OSHA Regulations during the Coronavirus Crisis

In light of the coronavirus disease, OSHA has reviewed employer responsibilities and is taking into consideration the difficulties employers may have in complying with standards during this health emergency. OSHA inspectors are looking at "good faith efforts" by employers to comply with applicable OSHA standards to ensure employee protection and training (including the possibility of virtual training or remote communication strategies). 

When OSHA Applies to Your Business

Any business with one or more employees must comply with OSHA regulations. That means anyone you give a paycheck to, but not independent contractors or freelancers. OSHA doesn't cover self-employed business owners, but it does include the spouse of a business owner if the spouse receives a paycheck. 

OSHA Federal and State Laws

OSHA is a federal law, but some states have their own OSHA laws. These state laws take precedence over federal law. To find which law controls your state, check out this chart showing state-approved OSHA plans. If your state is not on the list, it is controlled by federal regulations. See this map to find the OSHA office in your state.

OSHA Requirements for Employers

OSHA affects your business in several ways: 

Poster

Your business must have an OSHA-compliant poster displayed in a prominent place to inform workers of their rights under OSHA. There are regulations on what information must be included on the poster. See the OSHA Poster page for the "It's the Law" poster.

Hazardous Substances

You must provide workers with information on identifying hazardous substances in the workplace and training on how to treat injuries from these substances. Hazardous substances come in all shapes and sizes. Many substances that you might not think are hazardous are included.

Think of substances that might cause injury to an employee or illness. Even in a typical office, where you wouldn't think there were hazardous substances, some can still be found. For example, cleaning supplies, anything flammable, or anything with bleach in it, are considered hazardous substances.  

All hazardous substances will have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), prepared by the manufacturer. Look on the label for the name of the manufacturer to obtain the MSDS for these products. You must obtain these sheets from the manufacturers, keep them in a place where employees can find and refer to them, and train employees on how to read them to find information on treating injuries.

First Aid/Bloodborne Pathogens 

Bloodborne pathogens are diseases that are carried through human blood and other bodily fluids. HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C viruses are the most common blood-borne pathogens.

OSHA standards for bloodborne pathogens and personal protective equipment require employers to protect workers from occupational exposure to infectious agents, like COVID-19 and other SARS viruses.

You must give workers with information on first aid procedures, and protection against blood-borne pathogens in the workplace. Blood-borne pathogens training is required for workers who have "occupational exposure" to infectious diseases (such as medical workers, emergency workers, and others), but should also be given to all workers, so they know how to deal with blood-borne pathogens in case of an emergency.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employers are required to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize exposure to workplace hazards. Types of PPC include respirators, face protection, and protective clothing. If PPE is necessary, employees should be trained in the selection, maintenance, and use of this equipment.

Fire/Egress/Emergencies Provide workers with training on how to deal with fires and other emergencies, including means of egress (getting out of buildings safely) and the use of firefighting equipment. OSHA has an Emergency Exit Routes Fact Sheet to help you understand the requirements and make decisions on the best exit routes for your business. 

Reporting Requirements. Employers must report incidents, including fatalities, to the nearest OSHA office. Read more about reporting requirements

The Most Important Part of OSHA: Employee Training

OSHA requires that you create an emergency action plan and that you set up an OSHA training program to train all employees in all aspects of the plan.OSHA says,

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. If you have more than 10 employees, however, your plan must be written, kept in the workplace, and available for employee review.

What OSHA Training Must Include

  1. Training in hazardous substances, including how to read MSDS's and how to handle incidents. 
  2. Training in blood-borne pathogens. If your employees are exposed to blood-borne pathogens in more than usual circumstances (a medical office, for example), additional training may be required.
  3. Training in what to do in emergency situations, including training in how to exit the building. 
  4. Training in what to do if an OSHA inspector comes to your workplace. 

OSHA Can Inspect Your Business: Are You Ready? 

The OSHA regulations allow for inspections of businesses. An inspection may be unannounced or it could be scheduled. It could be a routine inspection of businesses in your area, or as a result of an employee complaint. You have a right to accompany the OSHA inspector during the inspection or to have a representative be present at the inspection.

OSHA inspections are prioritized, with the most hazardous workplaces given top priority. top hazards include imminent danger situations, reports of severe injuries and illnesses, and worker complaints. 

The inspector has a right to inspect all areas of your business for possible violations, not just the area of a complaint. Be sure to take lots of photos of any complaint areas, so you can document them, and document any improvements you might make.

There is a process for complaints and for showing work done to make improvements required by the inspectors. Include information about inspections in your employee training program

Whistleblower Protection and OSHA 

The Whistleblower Protection Act requires that employers not take action against employees (whistleblowers) who file complaints alleging OSHA violations. You are prohibited from firing, laying off, demoting an employee, reducing an employe's pay or hours, or denying the employee overtime or promotion for engaging in protected activities.

If an employee files an OSHA complaint against your business, an investigator will notify you and work with you and the employee to resolve the situation. 

This and other whistleblower protection laws make it easier for individuals to make allegations against a business without fear of retaliation.

OSHA Resources for Employers

For more information about OSHA regulations, go to the Department of Labor OSHA Law and Regulations site. The "All About OSHA" booklet is a general overview of OSHA. You may also get help in creating an employee training program from this OSHA Training Requirements and Resources guide.

Article Sources

  1. OSHA. "Discretion in Enforcement When Considering an Employer's Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (CVID-19) Pandemic." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  2. OSHA. "Help for Employers Am I Covered by OSHA?" Accessed May 6, 2020.

  3. OSHA. "OSHA's Free Workplace Poster." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  4. OSHA. "Hazard Communication." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Sharps Injusires: Bloodborne Pathogens." Accessed May 6, 2020

  6. OSHA. "Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  7. OSHA. "Personal Protective Equipment." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  8. OSHA. "Employer Responsibilities." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  9. OSHA. "Standard Number 1904.1 – Partial Exemption for Employers with 10 or Fewer Employees." Accessed May 6, 2020.

  10. OSHA. "Fact Sheet – OSHA Inspections. " Download PDF. Accessed May 6, 2020.

  11. OSHA. "Whistleblower Laws Enforced by OSHA." Accessed May 6, 2020.