A Brief Guide to OSHA Requirements for Employers

Gain insight into the role of employers in promoting and ensuring workplace safety based on OSHA regulations.

employer teaching employee about safety practices as mandated by osha requirements for employers

What are OSHA Requirements for Employers?

OSHA requirements for employers refer to the responsibilities and standards the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set for organization owners and employers to ensure workplace safety and health. Some requirements OSHA has set for employers to comply with include proper risk assessments, communication procedures, and regular training.

Role of Employers in Workplace Safety

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment, free from recognized hazards. Part of this involves complying with safety standards, rules, and regulations issued under OSHA standards and regulations, making them essential to workplace safety. They must always be aware of the risks their workplace and industry may carry and be vigilant to address or mitigate them in the most efficient manner possible.

Promptly addressing workplace health and safety issues, complying with safety standards, and resolving hazards to maintain OSHA compliance are essential tasks employers must always keep up with. Failure to adhere to OSHA regulations can lead to fines, legal ramifications, and reputational damage, impacting employee safety, operations, and recruitment efforts.

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OSHA Requirements for Employers

Generally, the responsibility of employers can be categorized into the following 7 primary duties:

1. Creating a risk assessment program

Employers need to have a risk assessment program that all employees can understand. Included in this program are:

  • ways to identify risks;
  • how to inspect equipment, workspaces, and tasks for risks;
  • how and when to use specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
  • how employees can address these risks; and
  • what to do in case a risk cannot be immediately mitigated or solved.

2. Inspecting the workplace

A comprehensive safety training program can only do so much if the workplace remains full of hazards. Aside from providing adequate safety training and a safe work environment, employers must comply with OSHA’s inspection standards to minimize the risk of worker injuries and fatalities. These inspections are best done with the help of checklists to ensure standardized checks and reporting.

3. Providing safety training to employees

Employers are responsible for providing workers with the knowledge and skills required to perform all work-related tasks while protecting their safety. When educating and training all workers to follow OSHA’s standards, employers must deliver safety training in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand.

Effective safety and health programs are critical tools that not only educate workers but also spread awareness and understanding of how to identify, report, and control workplace hazards. Knowing the program’s structure, plans, and procedures ensures that everyone can develop, implement, and improve the program.

Basic training courses for employees, as mentioned in OSHA standards, include emergency action plan and fire prevention plan awareness, among others.

4. Communicating with employees about risks and safety measures effectively

Without the proper communication channels and practices, employers may unwittingly put workers at risk. Being clear about their role in these safety programs ensures that employees are well-prepared to carry out their duties. It’s also key to promoting a culture of openness that encourages them to communicate effectively.

Employers are also required to inform workers of their rights and responsibilities by posting OSHA-approved safety posters. They must use color codes, labels, or signages to give appropriate warnings to workers who may be exposed to hazards upon entering a specific work area.

Below are OSHA’s designated color recommendations when informing workers of potential hazards:

  • DangerThis is for alerting workers of immediate risks or dangers. According to OSHA, all safety signals should be red (or mostly red) for maximum visibility.
  • Warning An orange warning sign is for moderate risks or risks that are not considered as urgent as red danger signs.
  • CautionThis sign is used for potential risks in the workplace and is often mostly yellow.
  • Biological HazardBecause of the unique risks that biohazard dangers present, they are separated into another category with fluorescent orange or orange-red color.

OSHA has also established safety codes that should be used when physical hazards are present in the facility:

  • RedThis color should be used for fire-related hazards. This pertains to areas where there are open flames and/or flammable materials that could easily ignite or explode.
  • YellowThis color signifies hazards related to striking, falling, slipping, and tripping.

OSHA borrows from the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) color-coding scheme to provide workers with instructions to maximize safety. Aside from the warning signs, the following colors are also recommended for workplace use:

  • GreenThis color is primarily used to notify people of the proper exits when they need to immediately evacuate.
  • BlueBlue is used to provide information that doesn’t necessarily have to be safety- or hazard-related.
  • Black & WhiteThis color is used to point workers towards regular entrances and exits, as opposed to green, which is used for emergency egresses.

5. Facilitating medical examinations when required

Depending on the industry and need, OSHA standards may require medical examinations for certain job roles or when employees are exposed to particular hazards, such as respiratory hazards, lead, asbestos, or hazardous substances. Employers should review the applicable OSHA standards and identify when medical examinations are necessary.

6. Ensuring machinery and other equipment are working as intended

To effectively eliminate hazards or identify them before they get worse, work equipment must be inspected and maintained regularly. Employers must stay aware of their equipment and asset conditions at all times, as faulty machines, poorly maintained equipment, and hard-to-operate materials can cause harm.

7. Recording and reporting employee injuries and illnesses

Employers are responsible for reporting any work-related death or accident, as well as any fatalities leading to work-related hospitalizations, within 8 hours. They also need to keep an updated record of work-related injuries and illnesses if they have 10 or more employees. Minor injuries that can be remedied with first aid do not need to be recorded.

Employers must also ensure that their employees can access the log of work-related injuries and illnesses (OSHA Form 300), including the summary of employee medical records and exposure records to individual workers. This is part of an employee’s rights.

What Does OSHA Require Employees to Do to Maintain Workplace Safety?

The creation of OSHA gave workers a government-mandated right to a safe environment where all hazards are removed or controlled. Practicing safety in the workplace, however, is a joint effort. Employees must know their responsibilities and work alongside their employers to implement a culture of safety for the benefit of both parties.

Though much of the safety burden may fall on the employer, employees are not exempt from responsibilities under the OSHA initiative and are expected to:

  • read and follow all safety materials provided by employers, including safety information posters around the workplace;
  • follow safe work practices as explained and demonstrated in safety training;
  • be vigilant and pay attention to safety process updates from their employer and OSHA;
  • report to work in a fit and stable condition and avoid work if under the influence of alcohol and other recreational drugs that may affect their cognitive functions;
  • report identified occupational hazards and/or potential hazards to their employer for quick resolution;
  • cooperate with OSHA compliance officers during workplace inspections; and
  • exercise the rights provided by OSHA responsibly.

While OSHA sets standards, provides guidelines, and assists businesses looking to improve their safety records, the key to creating a safe workplace ultimately depends on employers and employees working together and understanding that safety always comes first.

However, in some cases, the employer may fail in their duties in ensuring workplace safety even after the employee has done their best. In such cases, employees may file a complaint, and employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers who have done so. OSHA has a Whistleblower Protection Act designed to ensure that employees are not treated unfairly by employers they filed complaints against.

After an employee files a complaint against an employer, OSHA conducts an interview with the employee or complainant to determine the gravity and need for a formal investigation. If the evidence proves the claims of the complainant, OSHA can compel the employer to rehire the employee and provide appropriate support.

Roselin Manawis
Article by
Roselin Manawis
Roselin Manawis is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. She has experience in news writing and content marketing across different fields of discipline. Her background in Communication Arts enables her to leverage multimedia and improve the quality of her work. She also contributed as a research assistant for an international study and as a co-author for two books in 2020. With her informative articles, she aims to ignite digital transformation in workplaces around the world.