Workplace Safety Law
Guide to workplace safety law and working environment regulations
What is Workplace Safety Law?
Workplace safety law consists of federal and state regulations imposed on businesses in an effort to keep employees safe from harm. These rules apply to nearly all private sector employers. Standards are in place to reduce the risk of accidents and illnesses in the workplace, and government agents have authority to investigate violations and issue citations for noncompliance. Offenders are subject to monetary fines, and in some cases, imprisonment and other criminal penalties.
While “whistle blowing” employees can sometimes require legal assistance in reporting violations, workplace safety attorneys are primarily engaged in representing businesses. Attorneys who specialize in this area of the law defend employers in administrative proceedings, and offer consulting services to help companies develop policies to ensure compliance. Business clients also hire attorneys to assist lawmakers with drafting regulations, making sure the new laws are sensitive to the realities and needs of the client’s industry.
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations
The first step for employers who are concerned about compliance issues is to gain a general understanding of what the law requires. In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). This legislation can be viewed in terms of the rights it creates for workers, and the obligations it places on their employers.
With respect to workers’ rights, the OSH Act generally provides that each employee must be told about hazards existing at the workplace, and receive training in how to avoid those hazards. Employees also have a right to information about the health and safety laws applicable to the business. They must have means to file a complaint with the government if it appears the laws are being broken, on a confidential basis, and without fear of retaliation.
Employers have duties under the OSH Act to seek out potential threats to the wellbeing of their employees. In other words, business owners must be proactive, and take it upon themselves to discover hazards before they cause harm. Once discovered, hazards must be removed or otherwise addressed in order to minimize the risk to employees. Hazards that cannot be rendered safe must be brought to the attention of the employees, and appropriate training and safety gear provided. Finally, employers are required to maintain accident records and make them available for viewing.
Federal regulations implemented under the OSH Act are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Well-known among members of the construction and mining industries in particular, OSHA sends officials to physically inspect workplaces and issue citations for violations. It also provides educational outreach programs for businesses.
Avoiding Workplace Safety Claims
Perhaps more so than in any other field of law, workplace safety attorneys spend a great deal of time consulting with their business clients to avoid legal problems before they arise. The audit process may reveal the need for additional equipment such as respirators or safety guards on machinery. Or, it may indicate that new practices should be utilized, such as storing dangerous materials offsite to minimize the risk of exposure.
With the help of experienced legal counsel, a compliance audit may also show the need for enhanced training programs that take into account workers’ language and learning abilities. Record keeping procedures will be reviewed, and even seemingly minor problems like missing OSHA posters can be caught and rectified before they come to the attention of agency officials.
Claim Investigation and Defense
If a claim is made, the need for legal assistance becomes more urgent. An internal investigation by the company and its attorney will help determine if the employee’s claim is valid, and what steps are necessary to deal with the problem. In situations where an OSHA citation has been issued, there is a possibility the citation can be resolved through an informal negotiation process with the agency. If not, a strong defense will still benefit the company by keeping fines, sanctions, and publicity to a minimum.
Of course, just because the services of an attorney are useful in representing the employer’s interests in a workplace safety dispute, this is not to suggest that goals of the employer, its workers, and the government are at odds with each other. Workplace safety has come a long way in the decades since the OSH Act was passed into law. The most important benefit of working with an attorney familiar with safety regulations is that it will help the client provide a workplace in which employees can perform their duties without the risk of bodily harm.
Hiring a Workplace Safety Attorney
Whether you are simply interested in reducing the chance of a future violation, or you face significant liability for a recent catastrophe at your facility, as a business owner you need the assistance of a legal professional. Contact an attorney today to find out what you can do to demonstrate your commitment to worker safety.
Articles on HG.org Related to Workplace Safety Law
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- How Does the Workers’ Compensation System Work in Missouri?In Missouri, employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Employers can obtain this insurance either with a private insurance company, or can self insure. With some exceptions for domestic servants and agricultural workers, every employer who retains more than five employees must have workers’ compensation insurance.
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Workplace Safety - US
- ABA - Occupational Safety and Health Law
This committee follows developments under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, as well as various state plans through which occupational safety and health laws and regulations are enforced.
- Occupational Safety And Health - Overview
The Congress finds that personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon, and are a hindrance to, interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments.
- Occupational Safety and Health - Wikipedia
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)
Each employer: (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
- Safety in the Workplace
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), companies are required to provide a safe workplace for their employees.
- Workplace Safety Law
Workplace safety and health laws establish regulations designed to eliminate personal injuries and illnesses from occurring in the workplace.