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Overview of Safety Responsibilities


As an "agent of the employer" the supervisor assumes the responsibilities of the employer to the degree he or she has been given authority. This first module will introduce you to some of the basic employer responsibilities to OSHA law, and the obligations the employer and employees have to each other. Fulfilling these obligations is a function of competent management and leadership: the theme throughout the entire course.

Safety is Smart Business

Although, we're discussing what legal obligations the employer has in this module, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that "doing safety" to primarily avoid OSHA violations and penalties is probably the least effective safety management approach. Employers who understand the long term financial and cultural benefits derived from world-class safety management and leadership will be more likely to develop a proactive safety and health system that not only meets OSHA requirements, but far exceeds them. You can find out more about developing effective safety systems in Course 700.


Supervisor Importance

The supervisor is the person who can take immediate, direct action to make sure that his or her work area is safe and healthful for all employees. In his text, Occupational Safety and Health Management, Thomas Anton relates that the supervisor bears the greatest responsibility and accountability for implementing the safety and health program because it is he or she who works most directly with the employee.

It is important that the supervisor understands and applies successful management and leadership principles to make sure their employees enjoy an injury- and illness-free work environment. Management may be thought of as applying organizational skills, while leadership involves effective human relations skills.

What the Law Says


As detailed in the Section 5 (The General Duty Clause) of the OSHA Act of 1970, the employer is assigned responsibility and held accountable to maintain a safe and healthful workplace.

Excerpt: Public Law 91-596, 91st Congress, S. 2193, December 29, 1970.

An Act

To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the 'Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970'.

Section 5 (a) 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.

(b) Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

Employer Responsibilities


As you can see, employers have clearly defined responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The following list is an expansion on those basic responsibilities that are stated throughout the OSHA standards.

  • Provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. A recognized hazard may be thought to be one that is known by—or should be known by—the employer, such as conditions and practices generally known to be hazardous in an industry. Ultimately, fulfilling this requirement is a function of sound management and leadership. We'll be addressing effective management throughout the course, and leadership more specifically in Module 8.
  • Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards. Workplace conditions can be thought of as things or states of being. Hazardous conditions include tools, equipment, workstations, materials, facilities, environments, and people. Employees who, for any reason, are not capable of working safely should be considered hazardous conditions in the workplace. Identifying hazards will be covered in Module 2.
  • Minimize or reduce hazards. OSHA expects the employer to first consider engineering controls to eliminate or reduce hazards. Work practice, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment are also strategies used to minimize or reduce hazards. We'll be addressing this important responsibility in Module 3.
  • Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and properly maintain this equipment. How does the employer "make sure" this responsibility is fulfilled? Adequate supervision means identifying and correcting hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices before they result in injuries. Successfully meeting this responsibility will be covered in Module 4.
  • Use color codes, posters, labels, or signs to warn employees of potential hazards. Remember, warnings do not prevent exposure to hazards. Be sure warnings describe the consequences of exposure or behavior.
  • Establish or update operating procedures. Is OSHA talking about a comprehensive safety program? Although it is not yet required by OSHA standards, it's smart business to develop a comprehensive written plan that addresses commitment, involvement, identification, control, analysis, and evaluation activities. Typically, first-line supervisors are not involved in developing comprehensive safety plans unless they are members of a safety committee.
  • Communicate safety policies, procedures, and rules. This requirement is necessary so that employees follow safety and health requirements. The supervisor is a key player in communicating safety expectations. Although the safety committee and safety coordinator may provide help in fulfilling this responsibility, do not assume it's solely their job. Effective safety communications will be addressed in Module 4.
  • Provide medical examinations and training when required by OSHA standards. Respiratory protection, bloodborne pathogens, and other rules may require examinations.

Employer Responsibilities (Continued)

  • Provide adequate safety education and training. Of course, any exposure to hazards requires training. Safety education at all levels of the organization is critical to a successful safety culture. More on this topic in Module 5.
  • Report fatalities to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours. Report an in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees or an employee's amputation or an employee's loss of an eye, as a result of a work-related incident within 24 hours.
  • Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. Provide employees, former employees, and their representatives access to the OSHA Form 300 at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner. Post the OSHA Form 300-A summary in an area that is accessible to employees no later than February 1 of the year following the year covered by the records and keep the posting in place until April 30 of that same year.
  • Provide access to employee medical records and exposure records. Access should be provided to affected employees or their authorized representatives.
  • Not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the Act. Employees have a legal right to communicate with OSHA. No employee should be subject to restraint, interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal for filing a report of an unsafe or unhealthful working condition. More on this later in the module.
  • Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved. Each citation must remain posted until the violation has been corrected, or for three working days, whichever is longer. Post abatement verification documents or tags. Correct cited violations by the deadline set by OSHA citation and submit required abatement verification documentation.

Of course, these are not all of the employer responsibilities, but this summary does present those general responsibilities each employer has to both the law and their employees. The list above reflects the fact that the employer has control of work and workplace conditions. Tied to that control is accountability. On the other hand, what general responsibilities do employees have to their employer?

Employee Responsibilities

Manitoba CA - The Incident.
These principles apply everywhere!

Although OSHA does not cite employees for violations of their responsibilities, each employee must comply with all occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued under the Act that are applicable. Employee compliance is not likely unless the employer holds its employees accountable. Think of it this way: the employer is held accountable to OSHA standards, while the employee is held accountable to the employer standards.

One effective strategy for communicating this "chain of command" for accountability is for the employer to use language stressing that employees comply with the "company's safety rules" rather than the OSHA rules. Instead of having an "OSHA Manual," construct an "XYZ, Inc. Safety Manual."

Following this strategy to communicate responsibilities is important for a couple of reasons:

  • The employer communicates the message that they are doing safety because they want to out of concern for their safety, not because they have to in order to comply with the law.
  • Employees at all levels should clearly understand the "chain of command" for accountability in the workplace.

According to OSHA law, employee's should do the following:

  • Follow all lawful OSHA and employer safety policies and rules.
  • Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor.
  • Immediately report any job-related injury or illness to the employer.

Discrimination Against Employees Who Exercise Their Safety and Health Rights


Workers have the right to complain to OSHA and seek an OSHA inspection. Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes OSHA to investigate employee complaints of employer discrimination against those who are involved in safety and health activities.

OSHA is also responsible for enforcing whistleblower protection under ten other laws. OSHA Area Office staff can explain the protections under these laws and the deadlines for filing complaints. Workers in the 23 states operating OSHA-approved State Plans may file complaints of employer discrimination with the state plan as well. State and local government workers in these states (and two others with public employee only state plans) may file complaints of employer discrimination with the state.

Some examples of discrimination are firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time, blacklisting with other employers, taking away company housing, damaging credit at banks or credit unions and reducing pay or hours.

  • Refusing to do a job because of potentially unsafe workplace conditions is not ordinarily an employee right under the OSHA Act. (Your union contract or state law may, however, give you this right, but OSHA cannot enforce it.)
  • Refusing to work may result in disciplinary action by your employer. However, employees have the right to refuse to do a job if they believe in good faith that they are exposed to an imminent danger. "Good faith" means that even if an imminent danger is not found to exist, the worker had reasonable grounds to believe that it did exist.

Most discrimination complaints fall under the OSHA Act of 1970 that gives the employee only 30 days to report acts of discrimination. OSHA conducts an in-depth interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker's claim of discrimination, OSHA will ask the employer to restore the worker's job, earnings and benefits. If the employer objects, OSHA may take the employer to court to seek relief for the worker.

The Supervisor


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. According to Thomas Anton, this position bears the greatest responsibility and accountability for implementing the safety and health program policies and procedures?

2. What government "Act" assigns responsibility to maintain a safe and healthful workplace to the employer?

3. The "Act" in question 2 states that the employer is to provide a workplace free from _____ _____ that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

4. Employees who, for any reason, are not capable of working safely should be considered _____ _____.

5. All of the following are mandated employer responsibilities, except _____.

Have a great day!

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

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