BUSINESS OWNERS: BEWARE OF OSHA!

Louis Niedelman, Esq.
September 23, 2020

OSHA is the acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was created by an act of Congress in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for business employees. The Act establishes and enforces workplace standards by providing training, outreach, education and assistance to employers. OSHA is a federal agency governed by the United States Department of Labor and the Act covers most private sector employers and their employees, no matter the size of the business.

New Jersey is in Region 2 which includes New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. There are 10 regional OSHA offices in the continental United States.

OSHA promulgated safety and health regulations for private worksites and requires employers to find and correct safety and health hazards and, for example, to inform employees about chemical hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information and other methods. It also oversees a host of hazardous workplace conditions.

The Act contains a General Duty Clause which broadly encompasses the employers’ responsibilities:

“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.”

Employers must notify OSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality and within 24 hours of any work-related inpatient hospitalization, amputation or loss of any eye; provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers; and keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Employers are forbidden to retaliate against any worker for using their rights under the law and reporting any workplace safety deficiencies.

Inspectors randomly will visit and inspect business premises and will be called in to inspect sites where there have been accidents.

Some of the violations that I have encountered in representing clients include:

  • Failure or inadequate training of employees on powered material handling equipment, such as forklifts;
  • Lack of guards on machinery where the guards would prevent hand and arm injuries;
  • Absence of “lock out and tag out” procedures and signage on machinery;
  • Worn, frayed or damaged electric cables which must be taken out of service;
  • Lack of a written hazard communication program for employees, in multiple languages if needed;
  • Lack of quick-drenching and eye flushing stations for emergency use.

Citations to employers for OSHA violations can approximate hundreds of thousands of dollars; and, if the citations cannot be settled, the matter may proceed to a trial.

As a business owner, it is wise to engage a private OSHA expert or an industrial engineer to evaluate your business premises for safety. This recommendation would apply to the smallest of operations to larger factories and warehouses.

It is prudent business sense to develop a safety plan now before there is an injury to one of your employees exposing you to OSHA citations!

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