Site loading image


OSHA Employer Responsibilities & Standards Guide

OSHA Employer Responsibilities

Who is responsible for safety in the workplace? Employers’ responsibilities to employees include legal duties for health and safety in the workplace. Employees’ health and safety should be protected, regardless of the nature and location of their work. In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was created to provide regulations on employer responsibilities to employees.

Legal Responsibilities of Employers

Under Section 5 of OSHA, each employer must provide employees with a workplace and employment that is free of recognized dangers that are causing or may be likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Employers must also comply with the occupational health and safety standards, along with all the regulations, orders and rules issued under this Act.

Lack of knowledge about OSHA safety protocols is not a defense in the face of a possible violation. The biggest groups of OSHA standards address dangerous conditions in the following industry groups:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • General industry
  • Marine terminals
  • Shipyards

What Are Specification Standards?

Specification standards are specific methods to use in hazard abatement. These OSHA standards describe the required measures for compliance in great detail. Specification standards dictate the regulations with which you must comply and how you must comply with them.

For instance, one specification standard regulates exposure to asbestos within the workplace. This standard provides detailed instructions on matters such as:

  • Record-keeping
  • The required and prohibited work practices
  • The content and frequency of training programs
  • The method and frequency of air monitoring
  • The content and frequency of medical examinations

What Are Performance Standards?

Performance standards are the opposite of specification standards. These are standards that focus on the achievement of desired results. However, these standards do not specify how a goal is achieved. While there is no question about whether you must comply, it is not explicitly stated how you are going to comply. Instead, these standards are based on performance.

Performance standards are typically broad and vague to provide employees with greater flexibility in compliance. These standards are usually preferred to specification standards, as they ensure a safe workplace for every worker without making life more difficult.

These standards focus on reducing property damage, interruptions in business activities, harm to the environment and work-related injuries and illnesses without imposing numerous constraints that interfere with a business’s ability to perform its functions.

Summary of Responsibilities

Required OSHA standards specify employer responsibility in workplace safety. Under OSHA standards, employers are required to:

  • Comply with OSHA standards.
  • Provide a workplace that is free of serious hazards.
  • Report fatalities and hospitalizations promptly.
  • Post citations near or at the involved work area.
  • Address cited violations by the set deadline.
  • Keep and post records of work-related illnesses and injuries.
  • Ensure employees have access to and use safe equipment and tools.
  • Properly maintain equipment used by employees.
  • Provide training and medical examinations as required by OSHA standards.
  • Use signs, labels, color codes or posters to warn employees of a potential hazard.
  • Create operating procedures or update existing operating procedures.
  • Communicate operating procedures so employees can follow health and safety requirements.
  • Avoid discriminating against an employee who exercises their health and safety rights.
  • Provide access to employee exposure and medical records to employees or to employees’ authorized representatives.

What If Multiple Employers Are Working at the Same Site?

Does your company share a work site with several other employers? Difficulties can arise when multiple employers are working at the same site and have a responsibility under OSHA to maintain the safety and health of every employee present on the site. This situation is common at construction sites and industrial facilities that utilize contracted services from off-site companies for tasks like maintenance.

OSHA has a multi-employer violation policy that specifies the following for every employer at a site with multiple employers:

  • Employers may be cited for a hazard in the workplace, even if this employer’s employees are not being exposed to this hazard.
  • Employers are responsible for their employees who are either responsible for correcting a danger or are exposed to the hazard.

Multiple employers can be cited for the same violation under OSHA. An employer who is not responsible for a dangerous condition should put pressure on the employer who is responsible and create improvement in the working conditions.

When OSHA issues multi-employer citations, the seriousness of the cited violation and each employer’s level of control in the work site are considered. Normally, an employer may be able to avoid an OSHA citation for non-serious violations that are created by another employer.

However, an employer typically cannot avoid an OSHA citation for a serious violation their employees are exposed to — even if the employer did not create the hazard — unless the innocent employer can argue that the hazard could not have been discovered with reasonable effort.

Right to Refuse Dangerous Work

If an employee believes working conditions are not safe or healthy, they should bring these dangerous conditions to the employer’s attention if possible. Employees can file a complaint with OSHA about hazardous working conditions at any time. Employees have the right to refuse dangerous work if each of the conditions below is met:

  • The employee truly believes imminent danger exists, which means the employee refuses to work in good faith.
  • A reasonable person would agree with the employee that there is an actual risk of serious injury or death.
  • The employee has asked the employer to remove the danger, but the employer failed to eliminate the danger.
  • Because of the urgency of the danger, there is not enough time to get the hazard corrected through the regular enforcement channels.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

If your company fails to comply with OSHA standards, you may face significant penalties. The current maximum penalty amounts are as follows:

  • The penalty for a serious violation is $13,494 per violation.
  • The penalty for a willful or repeated violation is $134,937 per violation.
  • The penalty for a failure to abate violation is $13,494 per day after the abatement date.

Looking for effective solutions to your problems?

Turn to the experts at TRC.

By clicking "Accept", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. Read our Privacy Policy.