The United States government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to help ensure employees across the country have safe and healthy labor conditions. Employers in potentially hazardous fields – construction, manufacturing, property maintenance, health care, etc. – are probably familiar with this law. For them, purchasing workers’ compensation insurance and implementing workplace safety programs are critical to running their business.

Yet, all employers should care about the OSH Act because employee health and safety have a direct impact on engagement and performance. When employees know that their physical and emotional well-being are top priorities for their employer, they tend to be more productive and loyal.

What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?

The OSH Act is a U.S. law that requires employers to provide their employees with work environments free of recognized hazardous conditions that may cause death or serious physical harm. Examples of such hazards include the following:

  • Toxic chemicals
  • Infectious agents
  • Excessive noise
  • Mechanical dangers
  • Heat or cold stress

Provisions of the OSH Act

To help ensure that American workers have protection from hazards on the job, the OSH Act:

  • Authorizes the enforcement of occupational health and safety standards
  • Assists and encourages states to create safe and healthy working conditions
  • Provides for research, information, education and training in occupational safety

What is OSHA?

The law also created two federal agencies – the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). OSHA enforces the health and safety standards established in the OSH Act, while NIOSH researches and recommends ways for employers to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

Who is covered by the OSH Act?

The OSH Act covers most employers and employees in the private sector and some employers and employees in the public sector. Exemptions may apply to people who are self-employed, work on small family farms or are employed in an industry regulated by a federal agency other than OSHA.

Employee rights under the OSH Act

Employees have the right to report work-related illnesses and injuries without fear of retaliation from their employer. However, they must comply with occupational safety and health standards and all regulations applicable to their actions and conduct at work.

Employer obligations under the OSH Act

In addition, to creating work environments that meet the health and safety standards of the OSH Act, employers must:

  • Display OSHA posters at the workplace, notifying employees of their rights under the law
  • Have policies that do not deter employees from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Adhere to OSHA recordkeeping requirements

What does OSHA do?

OSHA regulates employers’ equipment and facilities to ensure compliance with the OSH Act. To that end, the agency has the power to:

  • Enforce rules prescribing methods employers must use to protect employees from recognized hazards
  • Classify potentially hazardous chemicals and communicate appropriate protective measures
  • Develop workplace safety and health standards based upon research, demonstrations, experiments and other related information as appropriate

Inspections and penalties

OSHA may inspect workplaces and if any violations are found, penalize the employers. Penalties vary based on the infraction type, of which there are several:

  • Posting requirement
  • Other than serious
  • Serious
  • Failure to abate
  • Repeat
  • Willful
  • Egregious

Learn the latest monetary values of the penalties

Frequently asked questions about OSH Act of 1970

What is the primary goal of the OSH Act of 1970?

The OSH Act is designed to protect employees from hazardous workplace conditions likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Congress passed the bill because it found that work-related injuries and illnesses were having a detrimental impact on interstate commerce due to lost production and wages, medical expenses, and disability compensation.

What are the general duties of employers under the OSH Act of 1970?

To comply with the OSH Act, employers generally must perform the following:

  • Ensure their work environment adheres to occupational safety and health standards
  • Post the required OSHA notifications throughout their workplace
  • Send OSHA electronic copies of their workplace injury and illness logs

Is OSHA and the OSH Act the same?

The OSH Act is a federal law and OSHA is a federal agency created as a result of that law’s passage. OSHA is responsible for ensuring that employers around the country comply with the OSH Act.

What is not covered by the OSH Act?

Although most private-sector employers and employees are covered under the OSH Act, there are some exceptions. These include self-employed individuals, people working on small family farms and organizations in industries that are not regulated by OSHA.

This article is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing the OSH Act of 1970 and is not a comprehensive resource of requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.

ADP Editorial Team

ADP Editorial Team The ADP editorial team is comprised of human resource professionals with extensive experience solving complex HR challenges for businesses of all sizes.