The Benefits of OSHA Compliance

Although some business owners may consider OSHA compliance a chore that has to be addressed in order to stay within the law, there are many benefits of OSHA compliance. This article discusses the benefits, explains the OSHA training requirements, and provides an OSHA FAQ section in which you will find further information about complying with OSHA standards.

Prior to 1970, the wellbeing of workers was largely dependent on where they worked, what industry they worked in, and how well federal, state, and industry safety standards were enforced. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) eliminated the “lottery of worker wellbeing” and led to the creation of safety and health standards for both the private and public sectors.

Due to the variety of standards that already existed, the newly formed Occupational Safety and Health Administration were able to quickly build a library of regulations that was codified under 29 CFR and effective within a year. Since 1971, the Administration has regularly updated existing standards or introduced new standards to address evolving safety and health risks in the workplace.

It is important to emphasize that OSHA regulations are a federal floor. If a state or a regulated industry has more stringent safety and health standards than OSHA, the more stringent standards apply. Indeed, twenty-two states have “State Plans” that cover both private and public sector workplaces, while a further six states have “State Plans” for public workplaces only.

Federal or State OSHA Plan?
State Plan Covering Private, State, Local Government Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming,
State Plan Covering State/Local Government Only Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Federal OSHA States Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Northern Mariana Islands, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin

What does OSHA Compliance Mean?

OSHA compliance means complying with the safety and health standards as they apply according to the location and nature of the business – unless the safety of the workplace is regulated by another federal agency such as the Department of Energy or the Coast Guard. Separate OSHA standards also apply to the agriculture, construction, and maritime industries due to the unique nature of risks.

The location of businesses not excluded by industry exceptions is not only important in terms of which safety and health standards apply – federal or state – but also in terms of which members of the workforce may be covered by the standards. Federal OSHA does not cover self-employed workers, family members of farm employers, or volunteers – but some State Plans do.

However, if a business qualifies as a general OSHA-covered entity (not excluded by industry exceptions or subject to industry-specific standards) and has only one paid employee among a workforce of (for example) self-employed workers, the whole building in which the business is situated must comply with the OSHA safety and health standards – which can be summarized as:

  • Identify and eliminate hazards to safety and health.
  • If hazards cannot be eliminated, substitute them with a safer alternative.
  • If substitution is not an option, adopt engineering controls to isolate workers from the hazards.
  • If workers cannot be isolated from the hazard, adopt administrative controls to change the way people work around hazards.
  • If it is not possible to change the way people work, issue Personal Protective Equipment to mitigate the risk of harm.

As well as identifying and managing risks in the workplace, OSHA compliance means educating the workforce about safety and health risks, maintaining records of work-related injuries and illnesses, reporting certain types of injuries and illnesses to OSHA, and informing the workforce of its rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and explaining the process for exercising their rights.

The Benefits of OSHA Compliance

Although complying with OSHA can be costly, many sources believe the investment in workplace safety and health is financially worthwhile. Any reductions in workplace injury or illness tend to reduce overtime payments to fill the gaps in shifts during sickness leave. Fewer injuries and illnesses also result in fewer workers´ comp injury claims, which reduces insurance costs.

From an employee´s perspective, if they are fit and healthy, they tend to be happier and more productive. Additionally, they will stay working for the same employer for longer – reducing recruitment, training, and onboarding costs. There is also an argument that a happier, healthier workforce reflects well for customers and stakeholders in terms of business reputation.

Potentially the biggest benefit of OSHA compliance is the avoidance of financial penalties issued by OSHA inspectors following an investigation into a workplace event or worker complaint. As the table below demonstrates, the 2024 penalties for OSHA violations can be substantial depending on the nature and the gravity of the event, and in some states may be higher depending on the State Plan in place.

Type of Violation Penalty Minimum Penalty Maximum
Serious $1,190 per violation $16,131 per violation
Other-Than-Serious $0 per violation $16,131 per violation
Willful or Repeated $11,524 per violation $161,323 per violation
Posting Requirements $0 per violation $16,131 per violation
Failure to Abate N/A $16,131 per day unabated beyond the abatement date, generally limited to 30 days maximum.

OSHA Training and Certification

The requirements for OSHA training and certification can be confusing due to the number of online providers offering training services. However, while training the workforce on safety and health best practices should reduce injury and illness, full workforce training is not required by OSHA. To help clarify the training requirements, OSHA has published “Training Requirements in OSHA Standards”.

Additionally. OSHA operates an outreach training program through which businesses can engage an OSHA-approved outreach trainer who will come into the business and provide an overview to employees of the hazards they may encounter in the workplace. The training emphasizes hazard identification, avoidance, control, and prevention rather than compliance with specific standards.

At the conclusion of OSHA outreach training, attendees are given a student completion card which will certify they have completed 10 hours of outreach training or 30 hours of outreach training. In some jurisdictions (for example New York City), 30 hour student completion cards are required before construction and demolition workers can work on a site with a Site Safety Plan.

OSHA Compliance Checklist

The OSHA compliance checklist below contains a summary of the main requirements for businesses in the general industry category. If you require further information about any of the standards listed below, please refer to 29 CFR § 1910 or visit the OSHA website, where a “Quick Start Assistant” can guide you through the OSHA compliance requirements via a series of links.

1. The General Working Environment

The general working environment must be clean and sanitary. Toilets and washing facilities must be provided, along with adequate illumination and ventilation. Any other risks present in the general working environment should be addressed in accordance with the OSHA General Duty clause.

2. Administrative, Recordkeeping, Posting, and Reporting Requirements

The administrative, recordkeeping, posting, and reporting requirements include displaying the OSHA Job Safety and Health Protection Poster, ensuring emergency telephone numbers are displayed in a prominent area, and providing workers with Material Safety Data Sheets.

3. Safety and Health Program

Businesses should maintain a safety and health program which includes a process for employees to report potential safety issues – including workplace violence. A safety committee should also be established that meets regularly to report on safety and health issues.

4. Walking/Working Surfaces Standards

Measures must be implemented to prevent slips, trips, and falls, including from a height, on stairways, and on the same level. The OSHA walking and working surfaces standards were updated in November 2016 to incorporate advances in technology and industry best practices.

5. Medical and First Aid Standards

There must always be at least one member of staff available who is qualified to provide first aid. First aid kits must be fully stocked and be easily accessible, and OSHA requires businesses to either use a communication system that automatically identifies the location of the caller when calling 911 or provides the caller´s latitude and longitude information to the 911 emergency dispatcher.

6. Electrical Standards

Electrical hazards are among OSHA’s most frequently cited incidents, and it is important businesses implement well-designed electrical systems and safety-related working practices and that wiring is checked for wear and tear that can result in insulation breaks, short circuits, and exposed wires.

7. The Hazard Communication Standard

This standard was developed for hazardous chemicals in the workplace and requires all hazardous materials to be labeled, with information about exposures included in a Safety Data Sheets (SDS). This standard is often updated to align with international systems for labelling chemicals.

8. The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

Employers who have work environments where there is a risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens must implement a control plan to limit the potential for exposure, provide appropriate PPE and safety devices, and ensure PPE and safety devices are maintained.

9. The Personal Protective Equipment Standard

In cases where it is necessary to issue Personal Protective Equipment, equipment such as face masks, eyewear, visors, gowns, aprons, and protective gloves must be available that is suitable given the level of risk. The equipment must be provided at no cost to the employee.

10. The Fire Prevention Plan and Exit Routes Standards

Fire prevention measures must be implemented in the workplace, and policies and procedures developed to mitigate the risk of injury. All fire safety systems must be regularly tested, and employees should be instructed in the use of fire extinguishers and fire protection procedures.

OSHA Compliance FAQs

How does OSHA find out when standards are not complied with?

Businesses are required to report certain types of injury and illness, events that result in hospitalizations, and workplace fatalities. OSHA will likely investigate the causes of these events to see if the appropriate standards have been complied with.

Furthermore, businesses can be visited by an OSHA inspector without warning or in response to an employee complaint. Therefore, it is in a business´ best interests to understand their OSHA compliance requirements and remain compliant with the appropriate standards at all times.

What is the Workers´ Right of Information in the OSH Act?

The Right of Information is usually interpreted as the right to a safe working environment in which workers are informed of any hazards in the workplace and the engineering controls, administrative controls, or Personal Protective Equipment implemented to mitigate the risk of injury or illness.

Other interpretations of the Right of Information include the right to review records of reported work-related injuries and illnesses, receive copies of test results conducted to identify hazards in the workplace, and know how to make a complaint to OSHA if their rights are not upheld.

Is there a specific OSHA compliance checklist per industry?

No. This is because even when two businesses operate in the same industry (and in the same state), there will likely be different organizational, environmental, and socio-economic factors that present different risks for each business which need mitigating in different ways.

Businesses that wish to develop their own, unique OSHA compliance checklist should conduct a risk assessment based on OSHA standards to identify risks to workplace safety and health, and then implement the appropriate substitutions or controls to mitigate the risk of injury or illness.

How does OSHA define workplace violence?

OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site”. Importantly, this definition not only applies to worker-on-worker violence, but any violent act in the workplace.

Therefore, businesses are required to put measures in place to mitigate the risk of physical, verbal, or psychological abuse instigated by anybody who may be present in the workplace – i.e., not only colleagues and managers, but also customers, patients, visitors, or passengers.

How do businesses determine if an illness is work-related?

An illness is considered work-related by OSHA “if an exposure at work either caused or contributed to the onset of symptoms or aggravated existing symptoms to the point that they meet OSHA recordability criteria.” This includes COVID-19 infections despite a stay being put on COVID-19 enforcement action.

It is usually simpler to determine work-related injuries, but not always. If an activity at work aggravates an employee´s existing condition – and the employer knew about the existing condition in advance – this could also be a reportable violation of OSHA under the General Duty clause.

What is the OSHA General Duty clause?

The OSHA General Duty clause is a “catchall” clause for recognized hazards not covered by another standard. However, in order for a business to be cited by OSHA under the General Duty clause, the following conditions must apply:

  1. The business failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that business were exposed,
  2. The hazard was recognized,
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm, and
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

Please be aware that different interpretations of the OSHA General Duty clause by apply in states that have their own State Plans.