The Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law on December 29, 1970 and created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on April 28, 1971.

OSHA’s three primary objectives are: 1) Improve workplace safety and health by reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities; 2) Change workplace culture by increasing employer and employee commitment to improved safety and health; and 3) Secure public confidence through excellence in developing and delivering OSHA services.

According to OSHA, each year, about 6,000 workers die from workplace injuries; an estimated 50,000 workers die from illnesses caused by workplace exposures; Six million workers suffer non-fatal workplace injuries; and Injuries alone cost US businesses more than $125 billion.

OSHA covers all employers and employees, except: The self-employed; Immediate members of farming families that do not employ outside workers; Employees regulated by other Federal Agencies such as mine and rail workers; and Public employees of State and local governments.

OSHA compliance officers are authorized to enter any workplace; inspect, during regular business hours, any and all areas of the workplace; and question anyone at the workplace.   Since all workplaces cannot be inspected, OSHA has established the following system of inspection priorities: 1) Workplaces posing an imminent danger; 2) Workplaces where there have been catastrophes and fatal accidents; 3) Workplaces that have been the subject of employee complaints; 4) Referrals from other agencies; 5) Planned inspections of high hazard industries; and 6) Follow-ups to previous inspections.

It is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, threaten, or otherwise retaliate against any employees who exercise their rights under OSHA.

If OSHA conducts an inspection of a workplace, the employer has the right to: Be advised by the compliance officer of the reason for the inspection; Accompany the compliance officer on the inspection; File a Notice of Contest to dispute inspection results; Request an informal settlement agreement process after an inspection; and Apply for a variance from a standard’s requirements.   After the inspection, the compliance officer holds a closing conference with the employer and employee representatives to discuss the findings and any potential citations.

For more information regarding your rights and obligations under OSHA, it is recommended that you contact an OSHA Regional Office or go online to find OSHA publications.