Providing a safe and healthy workplace environment for employees is not only a government regulated responsibility, but it better equips and protects your business’s most valuable asset: its people. Companies that prioritize workplace safety build better B2B relationships, attract more talent, and reduce risks that not only put people in harm’s way but could result in damages, lawsuits, or fines.
OSHA standards exist to protect workers from hazardous, unhealthy, and dangerous working conditions that put them and their health at risk. The large majority of private sector businesses are covered by, and must adhere to, these standards put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Posting OSHA employee rights documents and keeping OSHA standards on file are good practices and necessary compliance, but it’s important to understand why the standards exist and how they might apply to your business.
Your compliance to OSHA standards helps protect your people, helps create a positive company culture, and improves the reputation of your business. Here we’ll discuss the purpose of OSHA standards, how they apply to different industries, and we’ll provide examples of OSHA standards so you can better understand how they might apply in a given situation.
What are OSHA Standards?
OSHA standards are rules that apply to specific and general workplace environments to ensure proper safety precautions are taken to create safe working environments and prevent hazardous conditions for workers. This includes risk assessment and prevention, as well as preventative safety measures in known-risk conditions (fall protection, for example).
These rules have grown and changed over the years to reflect new technology, previously unrecognized risk, and to accommodate new and growing industries. But overall, their purpose is in service of the worker’s health and safety.
These standards are in place partly as a response to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which was created to ensure safe working conditions for workers and to reduce and prevent recognized workplace hazards. Until the passage of this Act, few federal regulations existed to protect workers, and increased mass production required oversight and authority to ensure proper safety measures were followed.
Today, OSHA standards fall into four categories: Construction, Agriculture, Maritime, and General Industry. Within each of these four standard categories, subcategories and subparts that detail unique risks, preventative practices and related PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Standards will include a Purpose, Scope, and additional, relative information that often indicates the reason for existence (high reports of related injury, etc.).
What Is the Purpose of OSHA Standards?
OSHA aims to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy for the workers who are present in these environments at any given time, and that employers are held accountable to standards and regulations set in place for specific work environments.
But OSHA standards are also instructional: along with providing employers the regulations involved in creating safe environments, they also help employers teach their employees how to perform safe practices through a variety of trainings and resources.
First and foremost, employers should make safety a priority to keep their employees safe and healthy throughout their tenure at an organization. But for business owners, safety and adherence to OSHA standards go beyond the wellbeing of their employees: a safe work environment can impact how well a business attracts talent. Potential employees will often inquire about a business’s safety record during interview processes to learn how well the business prioritizes safety. A clear OSHA record can stand in as proof of an organization’s safety track record.
In addition, businesses will often cite their adherence to OSHA policies as they discuss large-scale contracts with other businesses and customers as proof that the business conducts itself with integrity, honesty, and values.
What Are the 4 OSHA Standards?
OSHA standards apply to approximately 130 million workers across the US. These workers perform in both high and low-risk environments, and their typical duties vary widely so that no one standard could apply to all industries and organizations. Instead, OSHA categorizes its standards into four main categories mentioned previously: Construction, Agriculture, Maritime, and General Industry.
Here, we’ll examine why these categories are differentiated, explore some of the unique risks and environments that OSHA identifies for each, and a list of OSHA standards representative of the many found in their official documents.
For those working in construction, alteration, painting, repair, decorating, and similar fields, OSHA has compiled a list of at-risk practices that require a standard to prevent injury, health problems, or even fatality. Companies in these areas are required to comply to regulations specific to their workplace.
Many of the risks and standards identified under the Construction category are appropriate in other situations as well: pinch-points, lock-out/tag-out, fall protection, PPE. These common, historic situations have accrued sufficient numbers of injuries in the past and are identified at each workplace so employees can be trained regarding these common risks. However, OSHA standards are also updated to reflect new risks or revealed risks.
While not scheduled, OSHA will periodically update standards for an industry. They provide a timeline for companies to comply to new regulations and complete needed trainings to get all employees up to date.
Currently, the OSHA Construction standards are categorized into primary subcategories that include items similar but not limited to the following:
- Stairways & Ladders
- Trenching & Excavation
- Motor Vehicle Safety
- Hazard Communication
- Hand & Power Tools
- Silica Standard
- Confined Spaces
- Fire Safety & Emergency Action Planning
OSHA standards for agriculture include farming industries as well as livestock industries. Corn, soybean, fruit, beef, chicken, and pork production require a large workforce, a wide array of jobs, and responsibilities, and each year farmworkers are at risk of injury, work-related diseases, and fatality.
Chemical use and sun exposure are two common features of the agriculture industry that create risks for agricultural workers, and many of the agriculture-specific standards set in place by OSHA regard these elements. However, heavy machinery use, manual labor, and repetitive motion are also high-risk aspects of the industry.
Agriculture risk subcategories include work hazards such as the following:
- Animal-acquired Infections and Related Hazards
- Grain Bins and Silos
- Hazardous Equipment and Machinery
- Ladders and Falls
- Musculoskeletal Injuries
- Pesticides and Other Chemicals
- Respiratory Distress
- Unsanitary Conditions
- Motor Vehicle & Safety
The OSHA standards for the maritime industry provide employers and employees with proper safety actions to be taken during the construction, repair, and scrapping of vessels. Similar to Construction standards, OSHA identifies risks associated with the industry, provides clear instruction on avoiding hazards.
The most obvious of features that differentiate the maritime standards from the others is the inclusion of risks associated with water. While a common element such as Fall Protection might be included with each of the main four standards, operations such as Person In Water Recovery are unique to the maritime standards. Others include:
- Confined Space
- Fall Protection
- Crane Safety
- Fire & Rescue
- Welding, Cutting, and Brazing
- Hazardous Energy Lockout/Tagout
- Shipboard electrical
OSHA standards apply to far more organizations than those that fall under construction, agriculture, or maritime. Simply consider all different duties and responsibilities in the airline industry that come with inherent risk and workplace safety needs, for example.
The OSHA standards for general industry address workplace safety in all other areas of business—and this category represents the largest amount of workers in different workplace environments. But many of the standards here address common risks and injuries that exist in nearly every field. From strains and sprain risk, to locations of fire extinguishers, to evacuation and emergency plans—many of these standards can apply almost anywhere.
But this category also allows space for the standards that aren’t covered in construction, maritime, or agriculture categories. Sling protocol for helicopters, for example, is an item covered in General Industry. This category is a catch-all for both outlier items as well as more common yet important workplace safety standards.
Consider the industries that General Industry applies to:
- Healthcare facilities
- Food production
- Hotels and Service Industry
OSHA Guidelines for COVID19
OSHA standards are updated to reflect changes in risks and hazards present at a workplace.
In the wake of the pandemic, OSHA quickly informed industries of the advised protocol as soon as information became available regarding the spread of the virus. For example, initial instruction from OSHA for some industries required manually spraying down all workplaces with solvent on a periodic basis. This regulation changed as more information about the virus became known, but part of OSHA’s responsibility is to address changing environments in order to still enforce safe working environments.
Currently, OSHA provides COVID19 information regarding how employers and employees can prevent the spread of the virus including recommending vaccination, increasing testing, encouraging sick workers to stay home, and to wear masks in many scenarios.
With standards established for all applicable industries, OSHA’s primary role is to hold employers accountable for meeting safety expectations. These come in the form of both standard inspections as well as investigations into workplaces where injury or fatality has occurred.
OSHA oversees jurisdiction of roughly 7 million workplaces, and during inspection, they work to identify imminent danger situations, severe injuries or illnesses, worker complaints, and referrals. Once an issue has been identified, OSHA can reprimand a location and conduct follow-up inspections to see if prior violations have been addressed. In addition, OSHA will conduct specific inspections on locations or industries that are known to include high-risk situations, practices, and/or materials.
So what happens when a business violates a standard? OSHA can penalize companies who violate standards. These come in the form of monetary fines, and some of these can be severe: serious violations can incur nearly $14,000 per violation. Failure to abate a violation can incur nearly $14,000 per day. And “willful or repeated” violations can incur nearly $140,000 per violation.
Where Can I Find OSHA Standards?
OSHA standards are easily available online, with straightforward categories that allow viewers to look at specific industries, risks, and safety-related items. Workplaces, too, should carry some copy of the OSHA industry standards on-hand as they pertain to specific requirements in the workplace.
Visit almost any breakroom or public area in a given business in the United States, and you’ll likely come across OSHA documents posted in clear view for employees stating their protections provided by OSHA. This helps keep employees updated on new policies and protections as well as informing them of their rights. In fact, OSHA requires some of these documents to be posted.
Create a Safe Work Environment With the Help of DuraMark
DuraMark Technologies understands the importance of adhering to OSHA standards in every industry, and part of our solutions for businesses is to utilize printing technology to create signage that can make the difference in maintaining safe practices in a workplace. Safety labeling is a powerful tool to help identify hazards for employees, and it demonstrates to OSHA a business’ resolve to create a safe workplace.
From ISO standard safety labels to customized safety labels to hazardous materials labeling, DuraMark works with organizations to create good housekeeping practices, no matter the industry.
If you’re curious about how we might help you to improve your compliance with OSHA standards, contact us today to learn more about our printing solutions.