The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act): Ensuring Safe Workplaces

As an employer, it’s your job to make sure your employees stay safe at work. You must ensure they don’t become ill or get injured from anything at your business. To ensure workplace safety, you must follow the Occupational Safety and Health Act, otherwise known as the OSH Act.

What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a federal law administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Act is meant to keep employees safe at work.

The OSH Act lets OSHA create and enforce safety and health standards for businesses.

Who is covered by the OSH Act?

The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and employees.

Some states also have OSHA-approved state plans. The approved state plans might extend more coverage than the OSH Act. For example, a state plan might cover state and local government employees.

The OSH Act does not cover the following groups:

  • Self-employed workers
  • Farms that only employ immediate family members of the farmer’s family
  • Working conditions where other federal agencies regulate worker safety under another law
  • Employees of state and local governments, unless covered under an OSHA-approved state plan

OSH Act provisions

As mentioned before, the OSH Act puts the OSHA in charge of setting and enforcing standards for occupational safety. You must follow the OSH Act and regulations set by the OSHA.

In any areas where OSHA hasn’t set a standard, you should follow the OSH Act general duty clause, which essentially says you must keep your business free from hazards that may cause death or physical harm to employees.

The OSH Act sets specific rules for four industry categories: general industries, construction, maritime, and agriculture. But, it also has standards that apply to all industries.

Employees, their representatives, and OSHA must have access to relevant medical and exposure records.

You must provide your employees with free personal equipment to protect them from hazards. You must also train your employees on how to properly use the equipment.

If you are a manufacturer or importer, you must conduct hazard evaluations of the products you create or import. If the product is hazardous, you must indicate that on the containers. You must also include a safety data sheet on the first shipment to a new customer. If you use hazardous materials at your business, they must have labels, safety data sheets, and training to teach employees how to handle the chemicals.

The Act also encourages states to create their own state plans that are at least as effective as federal standards. So, when you’re trying to follow occupational safety laws, make sure you check for OSHA-approved state plans.

Employee rights under OSH Act

Employees have the right to file workplace condition complaints with OSHA. Employees may be able to have their identities kept confidential from employers.

Employees are allowed to participate in any OSHA workplace inspections. When OSHA gives an employer a certain amount of time to correct a violation, employees can contest the time limit.

Employees can exercise their rights without discrimination or retaliation. This means you cannot fire, demote, or take another negative action toward employees because they used their OSH Act rights.


All employers covered by the OSH Act must report to OSHA any workplace incidents that result in fatality, amputation, loss of an eye, or in-patient hospitalization.

Many businesses must use Form 300, Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, to keep a running record of injuries and illnesses. And, you must fill out Form 301, Injury and Illness Incident Report, whenever a recordable incident occurs. You must record injuries that result in death, days away from work, restricted work activity, job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness. You don’t have to record certain injuries and illnesses that require a doctor’s visit solely for observation or counseling.

If your business has 10 or fewer employees at all times during the year, you do not have to keep OSHA injury and illness records unless OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells you in writing to do so.

If your business is considered low hazard, you also don’t need to keep records unless told to in writing. Low hazard businesses include:

  • Certain retail stores
  • Eating and drinking places
  • Finance, insurance, and real estate agencies
  • Certain service industries (personal and business services, medical and dental offices, and legal, educational, and membership organizations)


You must quickly create a workplace incident report.

Report work-related fatalities within eight hours of finding out about it. Fatalities occurring within 30 days of an incident must be reported.

You must report hospitalization, amputation, and eye loss within 24 hours of finding out about it. However, you only have to report these cases if they occur within 24 hours of a workplace incident.

You have three options for reporting:

  • By phone to the nearest OSHA Area Office
  • By phone to the 24-hour OSHA hotline (1-800-321-OSHA or 1-800-321-6742)
  • Online on the OSHA website

Posting requirements

You are required to display an OSHA labor law poster. You must hang the poster in a place where employees can easily see it. The poster must be at least 8.5 by 14 inches in size, and the text must be in at least 10-point type. You must hang an English version of the poster; OSHA encourages you to hang the poster in other languages as well.

If you are covered by an OSHA-approved state plan, you might be required to hang that poster, too.

All employees, former employees, and their representatives have the right to view OSHA Form 300, Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. You must post Form 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. You must hang Form 300A in an easily viewable place. Hang the form summarizing the previous year from February 1 until April 30.

Inspections and penalties

All businesses covered by the OSH Act are subject to inspections by OSHA compliance safety and health officers. These officers can issue citations and penalties.

Officers can inspect your business without advanced notice if there is imminent danger, catastrophes, or worker complaints, or they’re doing targeted inspections for a particular hazard or high injury rates. They can also do follow-up inspections.

Learn more about the OSH Act

Make sure you fully comply with the OSH Act by reading the specific details yourself. To learn more about the OSH Act, try the following resources:

  • The OSHA website
  • A lawyer
  • Your state occupational safety and health organization

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This article has been updated from its original publication date of February 14, 2013.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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