The Occupational Safety and Health Act, passed in 1970, began a new era of protecting workers' health and safety on the job. It was the culmination of hard fought political battles, which started a century earlier with the Massachusetts Factory Act of 1877. OSHA is a federal program to develop and enforce standards to protect employees in private sector workplaces. The Act permits states to develop approved plans covering public sector employees, as long as they provide protection that’s equivalent to the federal regulations.
Congress determined that occupational health and safety risks were too high and gave OSHA authority to reduce them. The OSHA Act laid responsibility on the U.S. Department of Labor to develop standards for protecting employees from dangerous hazards and toxic substances in the workplace. It outlined a four-step process for identifying workplace risks: identify risk; determine regulatory alternatives to reduce it; identify the harmful substance or hazard, and technological and economically feasible protection requirements; evaluate cost-effective ways of reducing risk. OSHA concluded that mandatory training of workers would reduce workplace risk.
OSHA Hazard Communication Standard established rights of workers to know dangers of exposure to hazardous chemicals or materials. It mandated that employers provide training to employees in safe handling and use of hazardous chemicals, spill containment, cleanup plus emergency procedures and evacuation. OSHA determined significant workplace hazards existed and mandated training requirements for hazardous occupations. Mandatory safety training is required for workers in construction, shipyards, general industry, agriculture, hospitals and healthcare, any field where employees face dangers to health or safety.
Employers must provide Personal Protective Equipment for eye or face protection and must train employees in PPE use, as well as the use of HAZMAT suits if necessary. Employers must have an adequate number of spill kits on hand and must train employees in their use. The must place safety guards on moving machinery parts and train employees in their use and safe operation. Equipment and training requirements may increase initial costs for business and industry.
Employers are responsible for developing on-going training to ensure all workers can safely operate equipment, machinery and handle hazardous chemicals or materials. Employers must train workers if their assignment changes or employers install different machines. When developing a training program for at-risk employees, OSHA recommends employers start by listing consecutive steps for jobs, including listing necessary tools, machines, materials and safety hazards. OSHA has developed helpful curriculum guidelines, videos and PowerPoint presentations for mandatory safety training.
OSHA emphasizes that employers must observe regulations, and ensure supervisors and workers follow the safety procedures developed for their protection. An employer has the responsibility for safety training, implementing procedures and providing equipment; but employees must adhere to rules and have responsibility for their negligence. OSHA requires re-training in case of injury, accident or near-miss accidents. Mandatory training improves job performance, decreases costs for lost workdays, workmen’s compensation and re-training, and increases company productivity.