Course 600 - Introduction to Occupational Safety and Health

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Introduction to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

In 1970, the United States Congress and President Richard Nixon created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a national public health agency dedicated to the basic proposition that no worker should have to choose between their life and their job.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Passed with bipartisan support, the creation of OSHA was a historic moment of cooperative national reform. The OSHA law makes it clear the right to a safe workplace is a basic human right. Since OSHA's first day on the job, the agency has delivered remarkable progress for our nation. Workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths have fallen dramatically. Together with state partners, OSHA has tackled deadly safety hazards and health risks. The organization has established common sense standards and enforced the law against those who put workers at risk. The standards, enforcement actions, compliance assistance and cooperative programs have saved thousands of lives and prevented countless injuries and illnesses.

Although OSHA has made major strides in reducing worker deaths, the chart below clearly indicates the need for continued efforts to further reduce worker deaths.

  Workers Killed
YEAR TOTAL Avg./Week Avg./day
2010 4,690 90 13
2009 4,551 88 12
Source:, October 11, 2012

The leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites in 2011 were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object and caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” were responsible for nearly three out of five construction worker deaths. Eliminating the “Fatal Four” would save 410 workers’ lives in America every year.

OSHA is not just concerned with work related deaths; instead OSHA oversees all aspects of worker health and safety. This includes work related accidents and illnesses. For example, OSHA has established rules to help prevent workers from being exposed to environments which could cause physical injury or illness.

Take a look at the following list to get a sense of the most common workplace violations.

Top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards violations for 2016:

  1. Fall protection - construction
  2. Hazard communication - general industry
  3. Scaffolding - construction
  4. Respiratory protection - general industry
  5. Lockout/tagout - general industry
  6. Powered industrial trucks - general industry
  7. Ladders - construction
  8. Machine guarding - general industry
  9. Electrical, wiring methods - general industry
  10. Electrical - general requirements - general industry

Private Sector Workers

Construction Worker with PPE carrying wood
OSHA protects employees

OSHA covers most private sector employers and workers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions, either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state plan. State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of Federal OSHA. The OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs and precludes state enforcement of OSHA standards unless the state has an approved program. OSHA approves and monitors all state plans and provides as much as fifty percent of the funding for each program. State-run safety and health programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program.

The following states have approved state plans:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Puerto Rico
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virgin Islands
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Note: The Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virgin Island plans cover public sector (State and Local government) employment only.

OSHA's State Occupational Safety and Health Plans

Do you know what Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) law(s) cover your employer? Who has the authority to inspect your employer for OSH compliance? What agency do you call for an OSH complaint or to report a violation?

An article from our partner, HSE Press Journal, takes a closer look at OSHA regulations and what you need to know to protect your employees. Click here to read the article.

Employee Rights

As an employee, you have several rights when it comes to the OSH Act.

  1. You have the right to notify your employer or OSHA about workplace hazards. You may ask OSHA to keep your name confidential.
  2. You have the right to request an OSHA inspection if you believe there are unsafe and unhealthful conditions in your workplace.
  3. You can file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of retaliation or discrimination by your employer for making safety and health complaints.
  4. You have the right to see OSHA citations issued to your employer. Your employer must post the citations at or near the place of the alleged violations.
  5. Your employer must correct workplace hazards by the date indicated on the citation and must certify these hazards have been reduced or eliminated.
  6. You have the right to copies of your medical records and records of your exposures to toxic and harmful conditions or substances.
  7. Your employer must post this notice in your workplace.
  8. You must comply with all occupational safety and health standards issued under the OSH Act that apply to your own actions and conduct on the job.

There are several reasons OSHA is important in protecting the employee. In one example, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued 54 workplace safety and health citations with penalties totaling $1.2 million to gun powder substitute manufacturer Black Mag LLC.

On May 14, two workers and a plant supervisor were manufacturing a gun powder substitute known as Black Mag powder when the explosion occurred. The workers had been required to hand feed powder into operating equipment due to the employer's failure to implement essential protective controls. The employer also chose not to implement remote starting procedures, isolate operating stations, establish safe distancing and erect barriers or shielding - all of which are necessary for the safe manufacture of explosive powder. Additionally, the employer chose not to provide the personal protective equipment and other safety measures its employees needed to work safely with such hazardous material. OSHA cited the company with four egregious willful, 12 willful, 36 serious and two other-than-serious violations with total penalties of $1,232,500.

As you can see by the above example, OSHA is making a difference. In four decades, OSHA and its state partners, coupled with the efforts of employers, safety and health professionals, unions and advocates, have had a dramatic effect on workplace safety. Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled. Worker deaths in America are down — from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 13 a day in 2010. Worker injuries and illnesses are also down — from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to fewer than 4 per 100 in 2010.

Why Was OSHA Created


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. The top two OSHA cited workplace violations in 2016 were:

2. In 2011, what were the leading causes of deaths on construction sites?

3.As an employee, you have the following rights when it comes to the OSH Act:

4. You should comply with all occupational safety and health standards issued under the OSH Act that apply to your own actions and conduct on the job.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.