It might surprise many American workers to learn that the Occupational Safety & Health Act was only passed in 1970 and the Administration has only been in existence since 1971, despite the fact that workers had been fighting for their rights since the Industrial Revolution.
Since that time, the administration has done a wonderful job of researching workplace safety and creating a set of rules and regulations for nearly every industry in the country. As a result, the number of workplace injuries and fatalities has dropped dramatically. But recently, OSHA has requested funding to hire an additional 130 inspectors due to an increase in the number of workplace accidents and injuries.
OSHA has the power to send an inspector to any site at any time to check that all necessary safety standards have been met and that the employer is doing everything in their power to keep their employees safe. Each year, thousands of citations are issued, specifically detailing what safety standard was violated and how to fix it.
- A lack of fall protection.
- Failure to provide the necessary hazard communications (ex. warning signs)
- Issues with scaffolding.
- Failure to provide respiratory protection.
- A lack of hazardous energy control using the lockout / tagout procedure.
- Industrial trucking safety concerns.
- Misuse of ladders.
- Failure to properly wire electrical systems.
- A lack of proper safety guards on machines.
- Improper electrical design.
When a violation is discovered, the inspector will issue a written citation, if applicable, a fine, and if the situation is very dangerous for workers, they can immediately issue either a partial or full stop-work order.
What Is A Stop Work Order?
A stop-work order is when an employer is no longer allowed to have their employees on the job site until a safety hazard is corrected. If the order is partial, then only a portion of the job site is shut down. If the order is full, then everyone must leave the job site with the exception of those who are working to correct the safety issue.
There are many types of citations that can be issued:
- De Minimis Violation: A small violation that should not have any impact on the health or safety of employees.
- Other-Than-Serious: A violation that does impact the safety of employees but is not likely to cause serious injury or death.
- Serious Violation: This violation is issued when an employer should be aware that a hazardous issue exists and that it could potentially cause serious harm or kill an employee.
- Willful Violation: This means that the employer is obviously violating a specific safety standard, knowing that one of their employees will likely become injured, but allow work to continue anyway.
- Repeated Violations: If one violation has already been issued and future inspections show that the same issue still exists, another repeat violation may be issued.
- Failure To Abate: Every single citation includes a date by which repairs must be made. If the situation is not rectified by that date, they may face additional fines through a failure to abate violation.
Fines can range in maximums from $7,000 to $124,709 per violation depending on the severity. In 2015, OSHA raised the maximum fines for the first time in years because some employers had decided the lower fines were “just the cost of doing business” and ignoring safety standards in an effort to save time and money for their company.
What If I Suspect I Work In A Dangerous Environment?
If you believe that your health or the health of others is at risk because your employer is failing to adhere to the necessary safety standards, you may request that OSHA perform an inspection of your job.
OSHA inspects sites according to the following priorities:
- Imminent Danger: If the hazard that is reported may immediately result in the death of a worker, or at least cause serious injury, an inspector may be sent out immediately.
- Severe injuries and illnesses: Employers are required to report any fatalities, work-related hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye to OSHA. Then an inspection of the site and an investigation of the accident will take place.
- Worker Complaints: If a worker reports an issue to the administration, this is taken very seriously and given high priority.
- Referrals: Other federal and state organizations may request that a workplace be inspected.
- Targeted: This is when specific industries which may be more dangerous than others are targeted and random job sites are selected for review.
- Follow Up Inspection: A recheck of sites that have been previously inspected and found to have violations.
There is no need to fear retaliation from an employer – OSHA will not reveal the reason for their inspection of the name of the person who made the report. If somehow the employer learns of the identity of the employee who contacted the administration and punishes them for doing so, OSHA will assist the employee via the Whistleblower program.
What If I Was Injured?
If you were injured at work, regardless of who was at fault, you are likely eligible for workers’ compensation. In these cases, the best way to obtain both assistance and compensation is to contact an attorney as soon as possible.