Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

OSH Act Demands Employers Provide Safe Workplace

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Aug 16, 2012

Jon ElliottThe federal Occupational Safety and Health Act provides employers with a "General Duty" to provide their employees with “safe and healthful working conditions, in workplaces free of recognized hazards” which comply with OSHA standards for general industry. 

States that have accepted delegation of OSH Act requirements provide similar requirements.  To meet this General Duty, each employer must first recognize workplace hazards at their place of business.  This can be thought of as two different types of inquiry:

(1) Review standards issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or your state's OSH agency, and identify and comply with those applicable to your workplace.

(2) Evaluate your workplace for potentially hazardous conditions that are not yet subject to an OSHA standard, to make sure you also recognize those unregulated hazards.

Employers and their health and safety (H&S) personnel naturally focus on the first piece, which involves codified requirements that H&S personnel are aware of.  The second piece can be more vague, and is often neglected until an employee is hurt by an unregulated hazard (e.g., mold, repetitive-motion ergonomic hazards, and even workplace violence).  But standardized approaches are available to structure this vague inquiry.

OSHA has not adopted a national standard codifying how employers are to meet their General Duty.  However, OSHA issued “Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines” in 1989.  Over the ensuing two decades a majority of states (including California, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington) require, or at least recommend, that employers create such programs, assigning a variety of names to their requirements for OSHA state plans.  For example, California calls these programs Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs), while Washington and most others call them Accident Prevention Programs (APPs).  Since 2010 OSHA has been working on a rulemaking to codify a requirement to do so, in what OSHA calls Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (but with the acronym I2P2).

Since all these programs derive from OSHA's 1989 Guidelines, they all impose similar requirements.  In its original Guidelines, OSHA suggests at least the following four elements:

  1. Management commitment and employee involvement

  2. Worksite analysis—to identify hazards

  3. Hazard prevention and controls—addressing the hazards identified

  4. Safety and health training

In its IIPP regulations, California clarifies and expands the list to include all of the following elements: 

  • Responsibility—identify a person responsible for implementing the IIPP
  • Compliance—system for ensuring that employees comply with safe and healthful work practices
  • Communication—system for communicating occupational safety and health information in readily understandable forms to employees
  • Hazard Assessment—system for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards, including periodic inspections
  • Accident/Exposure Investigation—procedures to investigate reported workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Hazard Correction—methods and procedures for timely correction of unsafe and unhealthful conditions and work practices
  • Training and Instruction—training for all new and reassigned employees in safe and healthful work practices
  • Recordkeeping—retention of certain IIPP-related compliance records for at least one year
If your organization implements an effective H&S program, you should not only be meeting your General Duty, but should actually be providing thorough protection to your employees.  If not, how do you know if your employees are safe?

OSHA Health and Safety Checklist

Has the organization established a general workplace safety and health program?

- If so, does it comply with applicable requirements established by its OSH/OHS regulator?

- If so, which regulator(s)?  

Does the organization take effective steps to identify workplace hazards, including:

- Audit the workplace to identify potentially hazardous operations and locations, and assess the nature of each hazard

- Identify OSHA/state requirements applicable to those hazards, and institute required compliance measures

- Review external information about types of hazards and generally identified practices for hazard management 

Does the organization administer a thorough health and safety program, including the following steps:

- Assign specific qualified personnel to administer health and safety protection program elements

-  Evaluate how employees may be exposed to recognized hazards, by routine and non-routine activities and situations in the workplace

- Evaluate how engineering controls, administrative controls and procedures, and personal protective equipment (PPE) can be applied to manage hazards to acceptable levels

- Define administrative controls and procedures, and training to operate activities in compliance with applicable requirements and consistent with practices necessary to conduct unregulated activities safely

- Establish appropriate training programs, identify personnel who require specific training, and deliver training

- Establish recordkeeping procedures

- Establish ongoing workplace evaluation/inspection and recordkeeping programs sufficient to verify adequate implementation of designed programs and elements

- Establish incident response procedures

- Establish procedures for reviews of operations and protective procedures, periodically and after incidents, and for implementation of identified enhancements


About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 16 existing products, and writes quarterly updates for them all including OSHA Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and the CAL/OSHA Compliance Auditing Guide, which he co-authored with Specialty Technical Consultants, Inc.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA